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NI protesters challenge regents, Ben Allen

Diane Heldt, CR Gazette –

Protesters opposed to budget cuts at the University of Northern Iowa challenged state regents and UNI President Ben Allen today to meet with them to discuss why the decisions were made and what the protestors see as the lack of public input surrounding the plans.

About 100 protesters gathered outside Maucker Union on the UNI campus while the regents were meeting inside this morning. Eventually, many of the protesters made their way inside the ballroom where the regents were meeting, and about 30 to 40 protestors crammed into an area for a media briefing with board and university officials during the lunch break.

During the media briefing, the protesters challenged Board of Regents leaders and Allen on the budget cut plans, amid some shouting. The regents and Allen for the most part did not respond to the shouts, and took questions only from the media.

Joe Gorton, UNI associate professor of criminology, at the end of the briefing asked regents if the board would be willing to meet with a coalition of community leaders to discuss the closing of Malcolm Price Lab School, cutting the university museum and cutting nearly 60 academic programs, all approved in recent weeks by the regents.

Board officials filed out of the room and didn’t respond to his questions.

“Let’s have a conversation, why are you walking away,” Gorton shouted. “Would you be willing to meet with a coalition of community leaders? OK, the answer is no? The answer is no? They won’t meet with us.”

Walking into the media briefing, the regents were met with shouts of “no!” “no!” and “shame!” Many of the protestors held homemade signs about the cuts.

In response to a media question about the protesters, Regents President Craig Lang said it’s part of the American way.

“I believe it’s important for people to demonstrate and show their concerns,” he said. “We’ve read their emails and we’ve seen all their letters. We respected those, as well as we like them to respect us. This is a difficult time. I know that decisions that have been made have… impacted on many families, many teachers and many students.”

The concern from here on out, Lang said, it to make UNI sustainable in the future and to bring the most value to Iowa students.

Lang’s comments that the board read the emails and letters from the public drew some groans from the protestors, who have said they believe public input was lacking and board members did not see or respond to many of the concerns.

Allen said he respects the people who disagree.

“We also know that there are many people who are moving forward with these decisions and trying to implement those decisions in ways that will continue the strength of this university,” he said.

After Allen made some comments about not knowing how many layoffs will result from the budget cuts, one protestor yelled that she had received a pink slip.

“Here’s a layoff. Terminated! I’ve been terminated,” Price Lab School teacher Courtney Clausen shouted.

Some tenured UNI faculty have been offered buyout packages, with an April 30 deadline to declare their intent to take the offer. Allen said that means officials won’t know how many layoffs there might be until they know how many take the buyout, which should be in the next week or two. More than 29 buyouts were offered; Allen placed the number “somewhere in the 40s.”

There will be a “x number” of positions available in the restructuring of the research and development school and relocating student field experiences, but the number of positions offered likely won’t “match up with the people affected,” Allen said.

The lab school is slated to close June 30, though parents and other supporters of the school have filed a lawsuit charging the regents did not have authority to close the school without Legislative action.

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