Future of UI Labor Center still unclear after rally

People gathered from all across Iowa today at the University of Iowa campus, to speak at the board or regents meeting about the future of the University’s Labor Center. 

The University announced back in July, that in a year they would no longer be paying for the Labor Center. 

Today the Regents heard from both people in favor of and against the University’s decision to stop paying for the center. After the meeting, a group called ‘Save Our Labor Center’ rallied in support. 

"We showed up today and now it’s up to the University of Iowa administration to show up and save the labor center," said one student speaker at the rally.

The words of support for the University’s Labor Center could be heard both inside and out of the Board of Regents meeting today. 

"Many, many people on campus and across the state, who have been part of the Labors Center’s education and research programs have been trying to give their input on what that would mean and express their concern that the Labor Center has been really important to the state and working people in Iowa," said Labor Center Director, Jennifer Sherer.  

President of the Iowa Building Trades, Bill Gerhard was one of the people who spoke out to the regents. "This really touches a lot of people out in Iowa that have basically a high school diploma. This gives those people a connection to the University of Iowa through the labor center," said Gerhard. 

The center, among many other things, educates Iowa workers about their rights in the workplace.  

"This is an important institution that’s been around since 1951, put into action by the Iowa legislation. They thought it was important that workers have some education," said Gerhard. 

The University says less money from the state means students are paying more. The University of Iowa’s Media Director, Anne Bassett, explained in a statement, "We are disappointed to be in this position and did not come to this decision easily. President Harreld shared publicly several times that back-to-back state budget cuts by the Iowa Legislature would require difficult decisions, including closing centers and institutes not directly tied to student instruction or student success.

Over the past 20 years, the state budget has grown by more than $3 billion, but funding for the university has decreased by $9 million. Students once covered about 30 percent of the cost of their education, but the generational disinvestment in public higher education has forced students to now cover more than 60 percent of the cost of their education.  

These centers and employees provide valuable outreach and service to Iowans but we can no longer ask our students to cover the cost of non-student activities previously supported by the state just a generation ago.

We believe in the work of the Labor Center and have tried to find a solution, including giving the center a year to find new sources of funding."

However, those in favor of the center like UAW Member Lucas DeSpain, said they’re not satisfied with that answer. "I think the biggest question is why are they looking to close it? And I don’t know that there is an answer. There is some talk about budget but as we heard in the meeting it sounds like that’s just a talking point," said DeSpain. 

Director of the Labor Center, Sherer said she’s hopeful that all of the support from the community will help change the University’s decision. The group is also looking into other solutions to keep it open. 

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