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Students petition to fund UI Human Rights Center

BY ARIANA WITT | FEBRUARY 24, 2010 7:30 AM

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A group of University of Iowa students are circulating an electronic petition in hopes of saving a decade-old human-rights program.

Recent across-the-board budget cuts could damage the UI Center for Human Rights, which has provided more than 100 student interns with a chance to aid worldwide humanitarian efforts.

UI senior Lauren Dana, a center intern, created a Facebook group to raise awareness about the issue.

Organizers of the group, “Save the UICHR,” said they hope to collect 500 signatures for a petition letter by 5 p.m. on Friday. They’ll send the letter to the state Board of Regents, UI Provost Wallace Loh, and UI President Sally Mason.

“We want to show that this is something we students really care about,” Dana said.

By Tuesday, the group had collected more than 400 of the signatures needed.

The petition stems from potential staff cuts the program could soon face.

In past years, International Programs provided the center with a grant and expected it to raise additional money, Loh said.

While he predicted that the center won’t disappear because of the small funding it’s currently receiving from International Programs, he said it will see a difference in staff pay.

As of Tuesday, the center — located in the University Capitol Centre — had raised $57,000 in donations and fundraising from events such as UICHR @10, which celebrated the center’s 10th year in November. At the anniversary, center champions were already worried about funding.

The center needs approximately $100,000 to stay afloat next year.

Loh said the International Programs has the ultimate say in funding decisions.

“What the International Programs does is up to it,” he said. “The Provost Office can only tell it what percent needs to be cut.”

Gregory Hamot, the center’s director, said he understands the potential shortage in funds is part of campuswide budget cuts. But he’s staying optimistic.

“We’re still hoping for help,” Hamot said. “But we also have to raise funds on our own.”

According to the petition letter, the center has provided student internships for UI students with worldwide humanitarian organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, World Health Organization, and the Irish Centre for Human Rights.

Tia Upchurch-Freelove, a former intern at the center, said she signed on to the effort right away because of the effect the center had on her opportunities to explore human-rights topics.

“I didn’t even know what human rights really were until my sophomore year, and a lot of students can get away with not learning these things,” she said.

The Facebook group can be accessed on the center’s official Facebook page. Anyone can sign her or his name to the letter electronically by sending an e-mail to the Facebook group or confirming the Facebook event invitation.


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