“I’m a member of the History faculty at the University of Iowa, where I’ve taught for almost 20 years. The university’s mission is a three-legged stool: teaching, research/scholarship, and public engagement/community service. We’ve heard a great deal about the Labor Center’s public engagement and community service, so I want to talk about the other two legs of the university’s mission: teaching, and research/scholarship. I’m here to say that the Labor Center is also critical to these elements of the university’s mission.
"Let me start with some information about the Labor Center’s research activity. The Labor Center is a major recipient of nationally-competitive grants, which have totaled some $950,000 since 2002. These attest to the Labor Center’s outstanding role in the research mission of the university. In fact, far from losing steam during the current stringent budgetary environment, the Center won a grant of nearly $200,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities just this spring. The NEH doesn’t throw money around. This kind of grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities means that the Labor Center is on the map in the research world. This is exactly the kind of activity that helps to establish UI as a major research university.
"Why does the Labor Center keep winning these major grants? One reason is the Iowa Labor History Oral Project, nationally recognized as one of the country’s most important collections in labor history. It has been used for cutting-edge research by Iowa faculty, staff, and PhD students as well as scholars nationally and internationally — and every time someone travels from far away to use our collections, it enhances the University’s reputation as a hot spot for research activity.
Perhaps most important: the Labor Center is an integral part of the university’s teaching mission. Labor Center staff teach courses: not just in communities and on the shop floor, but in the undergraduate classroom. Their courses on labor history in the US and internationally are a crucial part of any basic education in both US and global history. ..."
—Professor Elizabeth Heineman, Chair, Department of History, University of Iowa
“We have many friends and associates that have benefited greatly from the education and resources provided by the Labor Center. The idea that such an important part of the University’s mission would be compromised to save such a minuscule portion of the budget seems highly suspect in its motivations, or at the very least a miscalculation regarding the usefulness, history and importance of the Center. Has a legitimate dialog or discussion as to the negative effects of this proposal taken place? Working people all over the Country need more places and resource that allow them to add to the ideas that create safer, more efficient, and beneficial work places & working environments — not the closure of the few that currently exist.
"We urge a reassessment and immediate reconsideration of this proposed closure. Fairer/safer work places and promoting the spirit of collective management in a productive, just and vibrant economy is in the best interest of all, and should remain a vital role within our Public Universities and educational institutions.”
—Michael Boone & Lisa Lilley, Coleville, CA
“There are lots of good reasons not to shutter the University of Iowa’s Labor Center. For starters, any such move would be rash, shortsighted, and wasteful. The Labor Center’s core continuing education mission teaches labor leaders about workers’ rights, about civil rights in the workplace, and about occupational health and safety. Those who have benefited from these courses over the years credit the Labor Center with helping them — and their local unions — sustain workplaces which are safer and more equitable.
"For the pittance in state funds (about $500,000) devoted to the Center, the returns the state — in fewer harassment claims, fewer workers’ compensation settlements, fewer cases of wage theft — are incalculable. Closing the Labor Center, in this respect, is like taking down the stoplights at an intersection: you could claim savings in signage and electricity as a result, but at what cost?
In turn, the threat to the future of the Labor Center — the only academic center in the Regents system devoted to work and workers in Iowa — sends a terrible message to the state’s working families. In an era of spiraling inequality, when the combination of stagnant incomes and rising tuition are putting a college education increasingly out of reach, do we really want to harden the perception that the state’s universities only serve the interests of the upper classes? There are about 1.6 million wage earners in Iowa, a quarter of whom do not earn a wage sufficient to climb above the poverty line. These Iowans — as citizens, voters, taxpayers, and parents — should know that the state’s public institutions are for them, too.
"And finally, the University’s claim that the Labor Center is peripheral to its academic mission is simply not true. The University’s current strategic plan sits on three pillars: student success, research, and engagement. The Labor Center contributes on all of these fronts, and especially on engagement and outreach to the rest of the state. On this score, the strategic plan argues that the University should “enhance UI’s statewide visibility and increase access to UI expertise,” “support the translation of intellectual work into applications to enhance economic development,” and “create lifelong learning opportunities that broaden UI’s reach across Iowa.”
"The Labor Center does all of this and more...."
—Colin Gordon, Professor of History, University of Iowa
Senior Research Consultant, Iowa Policy Project
“I’m a postal worker in Des Moines and a member of the American Postal Workers’ Union, Local 44. I’ve been a postal worker for 23 years. It’s a shame that this state treasure, the University of Iowa Labor Center, is being threatened as part of the ongoing spending cuts by the legislature.
"My union brothers and sisters rave about this place. My brother-in-law attended the weeklong leadership course here in 2006, and he still is excited to talk about it. I had couple of chances to take Labor Center classes when instructors came to teach in Des Moines. I attended a class back in the 1990s, a course called Common Sense Economics. It was breathtaking what he taught, and so much of what I learned that day stayed with me. More recently, Jen Sherer came to Des Moines to teach a class about gender harassment in the workplace. The information she imparted that evening was valuable and timely.
"These are just two examples of working class people who have had a chance to absorb the resources that the University of Iowa Labor Center provides. As Thomas Jefferson said, democratic society depends on an informed and educated citizenry. He was right. All working Iowans deserve to have the opportunity to become informed and educated here at the Labor Center and I demand that the university find a way to keep this great Labor Center alive."
—Mark Sarcone, American Postal Workers’ Union, Local 44, Des Moines
“As an organization representing a diverse group of Iowa Laborers — construction workers, school employees and city workers — we depend upon the University of Iowa Labor Center as a real partner in helping our rank and file Iowans better understand their rights, their opportunities and to help cultivate within them a real sense of contributors to Iowa’s well-being and economy.
"Thus we were distressed to recently hear that the University was considering suspension of the Labor Center program. Our Iowa local officers and staff work closely with the Center and depend upon it for clear and factual information.
"Just like a law, agriculture or a business school, a labor school helps sustain an equitable and involved economy for all Iowans. It gives individuals and organizations the tools to reflect and act appropriately as they consider their path forward. Some of our members are college graduates, others have not had that opportunity, but it is with great pride that they feel a connection to a state tax supported institution that also serves them and is responsive to their needs.
"We trust that university administrators will carefully consider this decision and look at the long history of community involvement and outreach that the Labor Center represents. For a very small investment, Iowans are reached and included in the University’s mission, a source of great pride for them."
—John Penn, Vice-President and Midwest Regional Manager, Laborers International Union of North America