University of Northern Iowa – A Declining Institution

I never thought I would have to be disappointed in my alma mater.  Typically people brag about where they came from, from where they received their education. Not me, not anymore.

Effective June 30, 2012 The University of Northern Iowa will be closing the doors to its 120 year old museum.  This is truly a disappointment you can read about at this site.   The university is administering budget cuts to the museum, printing services, and athletics.  Athletics looks to receive a slash of $500,000 and the $200,000 cut to the museums will close their doors permanently. Hmmm… with those amounts you can certainly see where the school lay its priorities in the first place.

Students enjoying the UNI Museums, image borrowed from UNI Museums website

Thousands upon thousands of people use the museum for educational purposes each year.  Not only that, students who research and intern at the museum have lost this opportunity.  The school is taking this wonderful resource away from its students, its classes and its community. The museum is an accredited institution and recognized for its value and excellence by the American Association of Museums.  This small museum has pulled in exhibitions of amazing magnitude from places like The Smithsonian Institution and The Field Museum. But folks, don’t be sad… you can still go watch us loose a game every once in a while.

I interned with the museum for two years while at UNI, as with many other students, and it has been an invaluable resource in my career.  That museum led me to where I am today; receiving my Master of Arts in Museum Professions.  Maybe some people don’t get it.  See below the mission statements of these three entities.

Excerpt from The University of Northern Iowa’s mission statement:

It is imperative that the quality of the university’s instruction be maintained and enhanced though increasingly strong emphasis on:

(1) General or liberal education as the most essential ingredient for the undergraduate student,

(2) the central importance and complementary relationship of teaching and research,

(3) enrichment of instruction through extensive clinical, laboratory and field experiences, and independent study, and

(4) development of the life of the university community itself as an effective educational force.

Excerpt from the University of Northern Iowa Museums’ mission statement:

The University of Northern Iowa Museums & Collections contribute to the education, research, and public service missions of the University through educational programming, exhibition, collection, and preservation.

For the campus and general public, the Museums foster lifelong learning and the exchange of ideas, as well as a respect for our natural resources and the human heritage of the world.

Lastly, an excerpt from The University of Northern Iowa Athletics mission statement:

We will offer compelling experience for the student-athlete and for our campus community and will provide a diverse environment steeped in integrity, values and vitality. We are committed to equitable opportunities for all students, student-athletes and athletic department staff including women and minorities. Our programming offerings, our recruitment of both students and staff, and our career enhancement opportunities for staff will reflect this commitment to equity and diversity. Further, we are totally committed to the NCAA principles of sportsmanship and ethical conduct and nothing short of complete and total adherence to the principles and guidelines subscribed to by the NCAA in these critical areas will be tolerated or accepted.

Teaching is our core, positive growth and development of student-athletes is our goal and the highest level of performance both in the classroom, in social settings, and on the field of play is our target outcome.

Whose mission statements most closely align?  Sports are even MENTIONED in the mission of the university. Where should cuts really be being made? You mean to tell me that UNI will FUND 15 university sports team, but it won’t fund a 120 year old educational institution that benefits both its students and community?  The athletics’ mission states teaching is their core, but what do you learn from throwing a ball in a hoop? What do other students learn from watching you do that?  Leave it to an EDUCATIONAL ENTITY to cut funding to another educational entity in order to save one based on ENTERTAINMENT.  Don’t assume I was a museum geek in school and that’s why I’m bitter about athletics. That’s not the case, I played sports in college and I loved every minute of it. BUT, it DID NOT contribute to my future.  I couldn’t help but laugh at this quote in an article I read about the athletic department’s cuts:

“This time, much of the pain is going to be internal. We might have to hold off on new uniforms and equipment. We might have to eliminate some positions, though not coaching in year one.” as stated by athletic director Troy Dannen.

FOR SHAME! How DARE the University reduce your budget to $3.5 million so you can’t get new uniforms every year. How DARE you not have the latest in basketballer trend.

But, there is one thing Dannen was right about, the pain for UNI is going to be internal.  That pain will be felt by every student, every faculty, staff and community member who rely on the museum as an educational tool.

The University Museum, image borrowed from UNI Museums website

I am truly disappointed in UNI and how it has decided upon its priorities. Athletics as a priority over education has always been in issue in America, I just never thought that poor decision would be made by someplace I was once so proud as to call my home.


6 responses to “University of Northern Iowa – A Declining Institution

  • dtkahler Kahler

    I think the one aspect your missing is the fact of what the public values has to balance with what the institution values. People send their kids to school, so the public opinion matters. You also have to look at the business side of things. How much money did the museum make the university, vs how much money is brought in by media revenue, concessions, tickets, etc… from athletics. This is especially true in years where the football and basketball teams are sucessful. I’m not saying that is necessarily how it should be, but that is what the general public values. I agree with you that the loss of the museum is unfortunate, however it’s not UNI that’s dishing out the budget cuts initally, it’s the state of iowa. No one wins in this situation unfortunately. Having sat on numerous committees that dealt with this very issue while at UNI, I have a lot of respect for the administration and the tough decisions they have to make with the circumstances they have been given. I certainly do not envy them!

    • Pam Schwartz

      I understand your point, but I think you’re missing the same one. The public DOES value the museum. It is a COMMON misconception that they don’t. There are many people upset about it’s closing. I’m not telling the university to eliminate athletics, simply asking them to curb its ridiculous allocation of the budget. In the article I linked to above, it states that UNI athletics are not self-sustaining so they NEED the school’s general EDUCATION fund to survive. That being said, are they making the school money or are they taking it? I’m sorry, I just feel an educational fund should be spent on education.Of course UNI doesn’t want to cut their budget but they make the decision how they do it, not the state. I have respect for the decision makers too, I know they are put on the spot.

      There have been many years UNI has lost money on losing teams. As you remember I played for the rugby team (a self-funded club sport) and we were Mid-West Champions. The women’s soccer team didn’t even win a game that year and they had everything paid for them. Win or lose, athletics are not sustaining the university, the students who are going there to receive an education are.

      • Savanna

        The UNI Museum does not charge admission fees, its doors are free and open to the public for FREE learning. Or at least they were…

  • Drew Kahler

    I understand where you’re coming from Pam. The only self-sustaining athletic program, I believe, is basketball. I was not saying that they make a profit, only that they make revenue to reduce the net loss (per program). I see your point on the soccer team as well, however they have to exist do to the title 9 law of having to offer the same number of women’s sports as they do men’s sports.

    Athletics have not, nor will they ever sustain any institution! Not even at the schools with very successful athletic programs. I do not believe that the community does not value the museum. I believe there are many people that do value it, and many that are upset about its closing as well. My point was simply that the macro view of the public will say that they value entertainment more than education, which is a fundamental problem with our society today. I do not think that is right, nor how it should be, however I believe that is largely true.

    The anger and frustration should not be directed at UNI, it should be directed at the state that keeps cutting higher education budgets while boasting a “$1.5 BILLION” surplus. These budget cuts at UNI are symptoms of the real problem, which is state and public support and funding for Iowa’s higher education institutions!

    • Pam Schwartz

      Ahhh Drew, we’ve always been so good at the debate! I understand the rules and limitations with cutting sports, but do you realize changing one sport at UNI to a club sport instead, could likely save the budget to spare the 120 year old museum?

      The anger and frustration is directed to both UNI and the state. As I mentioned everybody is cutting budgets, but UNI chose how to disseminate their cuts. Building a brand new basketball arena (that is awful mind you) and getting the teams brand new uniforms often is a waste of budget. The sports teams may easily survive on much less than their what was $5.5 million dollars. New uniforms, nice big buses to games, great hotel rooms… all at the expense of demolishing something the University has strived so hard to build for the public.

  • Jennifer Stephens VanHaaften

    As I understand it, the athletic department as a whole loses money and a pretty good chunk. UNI is not a big 10 school, so there’s not the media revenue that big 10 schools have. I too am disappointed that athletics gets a multi-million dollar facility, but no one does anything to help the museum or even the lab school with infrastructure or even makes an attempt to solicit the alumni to help support things like the lab school and the museum. Then, when things are really bad in the buildings and conditions, when a staff person wants to retire, when the budget is really bad, it is so easy to just cut those portions of the institutions that they didn’t try to take care of in the first place. I blame more than this administration at UNI, I blame all the people involved in not doing better with budgets for the last 20 years. We should not spend like crazy in the 90s because things were good. Institutions and people have to do a better job of saving for the bad times, because they WILL come. I gave to UNI, hoping to better the students, but I am so disappointed, I don’t even feel like I want to support anything else.

    The only glimmer of hope is that the museum started without a buidling and eventually got one, so maybe when we get better leadership in these institutions the artifacts will get a new home and can be brought together again to serve the community, both university and metro area.

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