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Release: Sept. 26, 2001

Coleman warns budget cuts will accelerate privatization of public universities

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa will "accelerate the trend toward increasing privatization of public higher education" if proposed budget cuts for its three state universities are approved, University of Iowa President Mary Sue Coleman said Tuesday night in her annual convocation speech.

The state is facing serious revenue difficulties and the university needs to be part of the overall solution, the UI president said. "But we are worried, and we are alerting Iowans about the dangers of privatizing public higher education and bringing about a radical change in our character," she added.

Coleman said she would attempt to heed the plea of U.S. President George W. Bush to preserve as many jobs as possible as a means of supporting the nation's economic base in the wake of terrorist attacks. Given the magnitude of the budget reduction proposal for this fiscal year, all university employees would be asked to make "a personal sacrifice so we can keep as many people in jobs as possible," she said.

The UI president said she would protect student financial aid and the four-year graduation contract, but she warned that "some services and programs will surely be eliminated" if the state legislature approves a proposal by Gov. Vilsack to reduce the UI's current fiscal year budget by $21.9 million.

Coleman concluded by calling for a non-partisan discussion of the state's commitment to higher education.

"We are at a crossroads in education in Iowa," she said. "The recent debates over higher education in Iowa have been reduced to questions of the immediate moment and purely matters of budget. This approach does not adequately address the present and future needs of our students and our state.

"I call upon all of us — political leaders, citizens, members of our Board of Regents, and our own students, faculty and staff — to articulate a new public philosophy — a philosophy reflective of the essential education functions that contribute to the public good, and then — in turn — a philosophy of long term public support."

Unless Iowans become engaged in deciding the future of our education, "we will stray from our purposes" and "our educational standing will fall," Coleman said.

To be effective, those discussions must start immediately and they must be non-partisan, the UI president said. "It is time for us to take the cue from our national leaders. On Thursday evening last week, I watched the President console and inspire the nation. I watched Senators Tom Daschle and Trent Lott stand together and support the President and the nation. Surely Iowans can stand together as we make decisions for our public education that will affect our state and democracy for generations to come."