ITR idea: one president for UofI, ISU, UNI

Iowans for Tax Relief president Ed Failor, Junior, has been writing a series of opinion pieces over the past few weeks.  He’s floated ideas like privatizing the state’s prison system, getting rid of the Iowa Department of Economic Development and a five-percent, across-the-board cut in the salaries of employees in the executive branch of state government.

Today, Failor opines that it’s time to have one administration, not three, run the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.  He’s not suggesting the Hawkeyes, Cyclones and Panthers play as one team on the football field or the basketball court.  He’s suggesting there be one president who will oversee all three institutions.  He’s suggesting Iowa be like Wisconsin (or to some extent, like Missouri).


Combine Iowa Regent Universities
By: Ed Failor, Jr., President of Iowans for Tax Relief

Date: Tuesday, November 17, 2009

As I continue to suggest ideas for Governor Culver and the Iowa Legislature to consider for budget savings, I have thought about one of the slogans of our great state “Iowa: Fields of Opportunity.” There could not be a more appropriate slogan for our state. The economic crisis Iowa is facing continues to provide our lawmakers with indeed, fields of opportunity.

Our state has three excellent public universities. In fact, I met my wife while we were both students at the University of Iowa, and this year our oldest son is a sophomore at the University of Northern Iowa. While our Regent Institutions are world-class universities, why do we have three separate administrative units? It does not make sense to have three public Iowa university administrative functions directly competing against one another for more funding from the Legislature and the Governor.

The University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa all have different academic specializations. However, the three also have similar, and in some instances identical educational programs. The economic situation allows us to look at changing how government operates and in this case, making changes to our outstanding public universities.

My recommendation to Governor Culver and the Legislature is to look to our neighbors in Wisconsin, and create a new Iowa University System, by combining our three public universities. This is not a suggestion to close any of the schools; instead the three universities would operate under a single university administrative system.

Merging the Iowa Regents Universities would save taxpayer dollars, by allowing the universities to combine their resources and administrations. Instead of three university presidents, the Iowa System would have one. Instead of layers of university vice-presidents, the Iowa System could have a simpler, less-complicated administration. Instead of three different payroll and information technology systems, there would be one for all three. Our universities could maintain their identity, their academic specialties and their athletics. Our students could get an even better public education, and our university system would be able to grow and thrive.

According to Iowa Board of Regents FY 2010 Budget documents, for FY 2010, over five-hundred million taxpayer dollars would have been sent to the Regents Universities for General University Operations (prior to the across-the-board cut). This does not include the taxpayer funding for the University of Iowa Hospitals or any of the other special purposes at the universities.
If we were to merge the three universities, to combine the strengths of the schools, and reduce the bureaucratic burdens the state could be able to trim the portion of your tax dollars which go to the Regents Universities. Between combining the three payroll and information technology systems, reducing duplicative administrative functions, and removing the built-in bureaucracy; a merger of the three public universities could likely result in more than twelve percent budget savings. If the state was able to trim one-eighth of the General Fund spending to the Regent Universities, there would be a budget savings over $62 million. Although there is limited empirical data on the cost savings of merging public universities, this number is easily attainable through reducing duplication and administration.

The purpose of a merger such as this is not to eliminate a single professor, resident assistant, teaching assistant, advisor or any other individual who is directly involved providing quality services to students. I would fully expect a savings greater than twelve percent, and would further suggest any savings more than this amount would be directed to reducing tuition and increasing faculty pay.

While our state is a great state, it is a small state, and in this budget crisis it is time for major changes in how taxpayer dollars are spent. Moving to a single public university system would certainly make it clear our state is ready to change, move forward, and prosper.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


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