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Students petition approaching closure of UI Center for Human Rights

BY TIERRA SIMPSON | OCTOBER 30, 2012 6:30 AM

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Officials say the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights will close because of a funding loss, but students are fighting to keep the center alive.

Students gathered on the Pentacrest and the T. Anne Cleary Walkway on Monday to raise awareness of the closing.

“One of the biggest issues we’re facing right now is that people just don’t know that the center is closing, and it’s been kept quiet for a while,” said UI senior Marisa Way, an intern at the center.

“We’re just trying to create awareness.”

Way said the center plays an important role in the community.

“The center is really important to keep around because we have lots of different programs; we work closely with the student body and the larger Iowa City community,” she said. “It’s important that we stick around.”

The center provides internships, human-rights resources, and has  worked to addressed human rights violations.

In addition, Zach Heffernen, the president of Students for Human Rights, started an online petition. Currently, the group has 197 supporters; it has a goal of 5,000 supporters.

“We want to demonstrate that students and the community care about the center,” he said.

However, officials say the UI Center for Human Rights will close because of a lack of funding.

Center Director Gregory Hamot said although the center raised money, it is running out of funds to continue all the services it provides.

Hamot was unable to provide figures for the center’s budget on Monday night.

Way acknowledges the issues with funding the center; however, she does not believe closing the center is the answer.

“We receive our funding through International Programs, and I guess it decided to allocate funding elsewhere,” she said. “But our center has a really small budget, and we have a small staff. It really shouldn’t be an issue to keep it open.”

Burns Weston, the founder of the center, expressed doubt about the UI administration’s understanding of human rights.

“Partly they say it’s for budgetary reasons; other reasons, they say it’s because they say it’s not located in a college,” he said. “I don’t believe those are the complete reasons. I don’t think the administration really understands what human rights are all about.” 

The funding for the center has been an ongoing problem.

In 2010, the Office of the Provost informed the center that because of the reduction in the UI general education fund budget, the office would be unable to continue the funding for the center.

The Center for Human Rights then took action.

“The center raised some private support, and the central funding from the Provost Office was extended for two more years,” UI spokesman Tom Moore said.  

But when the Provost Office approached college units this year to see if they were interested in supporting the center, only two colleges stepped forward.

“The College of Law and the College of Education agreed to take on some core activities of the center,” Moore said.  “But no college showed interest in fully supporting the operations of the center. Most of the core activities will continue.”

Officials still have hopes for the center.

Though an exact date is not set for the center to close, officials expect changes to take place next year.

“Parts of [the center] will go on,” Hamot said “It’s not an end.”


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