CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Board of Regents and university leaders made a quick exit from a regent press conference when several protesters attempted to question them about recent academic cuts on the University of Northern Iowa campus.
Joe Gorton, an associate professor of criminology, specifically asked the Regents to schedule a meeting to discuss the cuts. His request went unanswered. A few dozen of the more than 100 “Rally for the Facts” protesters attended the press conference, which is usually held following the morning and afternoon regent sessions.
The protest started with a rally outside the union. This was the first time the board had met on the campus since Allen announced his plan to close Malcolm Price Laboratory School, the UNI Museums, Print Services and about one-fifth of the school’s academic programs. The board heard a very short update on the closure of Price Lab and the transition of the teacher education program during the morning session.
The protesters, assembled from faculty, student, Price Lab and community organizations opposed to the cuts at UNI, first met outside the Maucker Union. Crowds there fluctuated from 50 people up to 120. Most of them were older than a traditional college student.
Cathy Desoto, leader of the faculty union, used a bullhorn to lead a chant of “unacceptable, unconscionable” as the protest got started.
“I think the thing that upsets me the most is the faculty who have been here for 10, 20, 30 years have been shut out of the process,” Desoto said.
Chris Andrews has children at Price Lab School. He criticized the process that political appointees who sit on the Board of Regents, some without a background in education, have such power to make changes at the university.
“We are here to take our university back. We’re here to take it back from the political annointees,” Andrews said.
Stacy Glascock, another Price Lab parent, said the budget crisis isn’t real, that the university simply has its priorities in the wrong place. In particular, she mentioned that UNI spends too much on administration.
The group then moved inside, where they stood silently at the back of the UNI Maucker Union ballroom while the regents were in session.
“This is part of the American way. I believe it is important for people to demonstrate and show their concern. We read their emails and we’ve seen all their letters,” Lang said, in response to the protesters. “We respected them, as well as we like them to respect us.”
During the press conference Allen said in the next two weeks he should know more about how much money the Price Lab closure would save the university and the one-time savings that will be associated with the faculty buy-out.
Allen said the Price Lab savings is dependent on how the new teacher education program plays out. The university is planning to re-assign at least 20 Price Lab teachers with the university to serve as field experience leaders. The university must have that plan finalized by May 7 so that faculty who qualify for the early separation program would know if they still have a job within the university, Dwight Watson, the dean of the College of Education said Wednesday.
Allen said about 40 tenured faculty have been offered the buyout package. The deadline for that program is April 30, however, participants have seven days to withdraw their request. He expressed some uncertainty about how many termination letters would go out and if any faculty had received them. Courtney Clausen, a tenure-track faculty member, shouted that she had already gotten such a letter.
Though only the media was allowed to ask questions, several protesters did interject when a regent or Allen gave answers they didn’t believe to be true. Many thumped the walls and floors and yelled “shameful” as the Regent and university leadership entered and exited the press room.
Bettina Fabos, an associate professor in communication studies, said Allen could have been a “champion” for UNI.
“He could have gone all over the country saying ‘We are not going to stand it. We are going to fight for the quality of Iowa education,’” Fabos said. “But he didn’t. He just backed off.”