Monday, August 9, 2010

Our View - UI Center for Human Rights looking for funds

Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Dec. 5, 2009

Our View - UI Center for Human Rights looking for funds

Last month, the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights celebrated its 10th anniversary with a series of lectures, films, panel discussions and performances. But the celebration was made somewhat bittersweet when University of Iowa officials announced the center will lose most of its funding -- including all the money for its small staff -- at the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2010.

The announcement basically means that the center wouldn't be able to fully celebrate an 11th anniversary unless it raises its $110,301 budget -- which covers salaries of three non-faculty staff members, or 1.75 full-time equivalent positions -- from other sources. And it wouldn't get to see a 15th or 20th anniversary unless it secures either a large enough endowment (about $2 million) or finds sufficient additional streams of independent revenue.

Happily, since the announcement of the budget cuts, center officials say they have raised more than $57,000 in donations for next year's budget. The center also recently received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for continuing its work with immigration rights. And center officials are finalizing plans for developing a Human Rights Certificate Program through the UI Division of Continuing Education -- a program that would include Web-based courses that could provide the center with an independent stream of revenue.

Gregory Hamot, a College of Education professor and the center's director, said he is optimistic about the center's short-term and long-term prospects.

"I wouldn't invest the time in it if I didn't think there were people in our community and our university that want to see it continue," Hamot said. "I am committed to maintaining the center."

We would hate to see the center have to cut back on the work it has done to coordinate a human rights focus throughout UI and other universities. Throughout its 10-year history, the center has earned an impressive national reputation. An earlier Justice Department grant help the center establish itself as a leader in child labor scholarship and advocacy. And in the past few years, it has begun to build a similar reputation in immigration rights.

And the center's influence has been felt throughout the university and the surrounding community. There are human rights-focused classes being offered in departments across the campus. Some of that convergence has been the direct result of organized efforts by the center's staff and affiliated faculty. But much of it has been the indirect result of the many classes, conferences and community connections that the center has helped to bring about.

But we also understand that, during a period of state budget cuts, the university needs programs and academic endeavors like the Center for Human Rights to become self-sufficient. Some of the current plans have been in the works for years, but the untimely death of UI History Professor and Center Director Ken Cmiel in 2006 -- and the succession of short-term directors trying to fill in -- delayed their implementation.

That's why we hope the recent donations and long-term plans show UI administrators that there is a spark of life in this center, one worth keeping alive until more independent funding comes in the next few years.

And we praise the center staff for deciding not to waste time on trying to press UI administrators to change their minds about the funding cut and for deciding instead to begin an aggressive campaign to go after its own funding.

We wish them luck.

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