Letter to the Editor

BY DI READERS | MARCH 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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Heroes of human rights

It is no stretch of the truth that had not a small but intrepid band of young human-rights activists determined in the early fall semester to speak truth to power, and thereby inspire others to do the same, there would be no University of Iowa Center for Human Rights in existence as of July 1. To Zach Heffernen, Marisa Way, David Lam-Lu, Matthew Noftsger, Thomas Langer, Libby Miller, Michelle Gin, and others — you are the real heroes of this story.

UI central administration’s decision to close the center was leaked to The Daily Iowan in September 2012. The decision had been taken without faculty consultation or any serious attempt to identify sustainable funding. It was incomprehensible; but it was already half done. UI spokesman Tom Moore belatedly declared that “no college [had] showed interest in fully supporting the operations of the center.”

But by late October, Heffernen and his fellow travelers launched a campaign that would fundamentally change the political calculus. Their cause was arguably a fool’s errand, but their political sensibilities were acute, their operation disciplined, and their hearts passionate and determined.

To quote Heffernen’s second-in-command, Way: “We’re not gonna go down without a fight”. Heffernen founded UI Students for Human Rights and proceeded to run it in a way that would make his professors at Tippie College of Business proud.

In 2012, not only did UI Students for Human Rights step up to act as the university’s moral compass in articulating the basic duty of the institution to offer meaningful human-rights education, the members also forcibly reaffirmed, through example, one of the most basic prerogatives of citizens in a democratic society — the responsible and effective exercise of First Amendment rights. In the process, a number of students have found their calling in careers related to human-rights advocacy, teaching, and research.

In an odd way, the attempted closure of the Human Rights Center was the most effective measure that UI central administration could possibly have taken to both strengthen human-rights education and swell the ranks of future human-rights lawyers and activists. But it is to Heffernen and his crew, who by example inspired us all, that we can ascribe the most critically central role in not only saving, but entrenching human rights education on this campus.

Edward A. Miner, Ph.D., M.L.S.
bibliographer for African, Middle Eastern & South Asian Studies
University of Iowa Libraries

Refreshing view on red-light cameras

Reading your editorial regarding red-light cameras was enjoyable and well done. I’ve read some articles from other parts of the country, and it seems like it’s normal for a study to show that just over 50 percent are opposed to the cameras. After camera installation, studies rarely show any suggestion of better drivers.

Since moving to Iowa City in 2004, I drive to the University Hospital twice each day. I travel on Burlington Street and get a chance to observe red-light abuse each day. Without any question, the worst offenders are the buses. To be clear, I am not referring to school buses, as I believe those drivers are some of the best on the roads. But the Cambus drivers regularly pull out into an intersection, wait there until the light turns red, and only then do they start to make a turn. Of course, getting that long, heavy bus moving takes some time, but it is all done on a red light.

I’d like to see the City Council actually be bold enough to state publically that each time a Cambus drives through a red light, a citation will be issued. One almost never sees a city bus turn on red lights. Why should the Cambus be allowed to break the traffic laws every day?

Ben Wenberg

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