Students to protest closure of UI Center for Human Rights

By Stacey Murray for The Daily Iowan

The University of Iowa Students for Human Rights will gather on the Pentacrest Wednesday to protest the closing of the UI Center for Human Rights. The demonstration sparked a disagreement between supporters of the center and the Provost’s Office regarding publicity for the event.

Some of the center’s supporters contend UI administrators are suppressing students’ intellectual freedoms by intentionally finding ways to thwart publicity for the protest. However, International Programs Dean Downing Thomas maintained officials are following their usual procedures.

The student group approached International Programs officials in hopes of having an email sent out over the list-serv and also requested a digital screen to be projected as a sign in the University Capitol Center. This screen routinely provides publicity for different events and community groups.

The office denied requests to have fliers printed, as Provost P. Barry Butler explained the International Programs office doesn’t have an established budget for the group. Student organizations — such as Students for Human Rights, a group tied to the center — typically seek funding through the Office of Student Life and UI Student Government.

The student group then sent a digital slide to the office, but the office couldn’t project it because of its incorrect format. Per policy, the office doesn’t expend time reformatting for screens.

In a prior email exchange between International Studies bibliographer Edward Miner and Thomas obtained by The Daily Iowan, said International Programs cannot print or make announcements about Wednesday’s protest because the department “is in effect closing the center.”

With this rejection, students and faculty supporters said the office was suppressing their intellectual freedoms. Supporters of the center said the back-and-forth debacle over publicity was a purposeful effort to thwart the upcoming student protest.

Miner, in an email to Butler, wrote, “… This reality in and around [International Programs] is extremely unfortunate and most detrimental to the missions of the centers and programs that compose its academic endeavors.”

The screen is now being displayed and will run through Wednesday at 5 p.m. on the monitor in the University Capitol Center above the International Programs’ office entrance. The protest against the closing of the Center for Human Rights will take place at the eastern entrance to the Pentacrest.

Supporters believe the publicity snafu is due to the Provost Office’s closing of the Human Rights Center.

“They’re dragging their feet and finding anything they can to not put the information up on their digital screen,” Paul Greenough of the student-faculty interest group said before the screen had been placed. “They can’t do that.”

However, Thomas said UI officials in no way tried to suppress any freedoms.

“I’m not sure how that relates to suppressing intellectual freedoms since we have posted the announcement,” he said.

Butler responded to the DI’s request for comment by describing the center’s past history with what he called shaky finances.

“Stable funding for the center has been an ongoing issue for several years,” Butler wrote in an email. “Since 2010, the center raised some private support, and central funding was extended through the use of non-recurring funds. When I became provost in 2011, it was obvious that the center had a non-sustainable operating model.”

Butler said he is working to find ways to keep the Rights Center operating in some capacity well in the future.

Students and members of the center have fought to keep the center alive. The group started an online petition that amassed more than 2,000 signatures as of Sunday evening.

“Human rights is everywhere, and that’s the point,” said Amy Weismann, the center’s associate director. “It needs to be recognized. The primary value of the center is as a centralized campus-wide resource for human rights, teaching, research, and service that is not replicable. That component is lost through this dismemberment.”

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