COGS protests, turns 20

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By Tom Ackerman

thomas-ackerman@uiowa.edu

Despite this past  weekend’s enticing weather, there were only a handful of protesters and Lil’ Bruce Harreld to stand ground for the University of Iowa.

As part of the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students’ 20th anniversary, the group taunted prospective students and cheered loudly about issues, including faculty compensation and overarching administrative changes at the UI.

“Since COGS, our graduate students have had some of the highest salaries in the Big Ten. Our faculty has had some of the lowest,” said UI graduate student Bailey Kelly. “Once the faculty gets their act together and decides that they would like to unionize, they will have COGS to look to.”

Alumni, graduate students, and some faculty took to the megaphone. Many mocked the faculty for their lack in participation on the fight against recent changes at the UI.

The group also released a “white paper” addressing inequality among administrators and employees in an ongoing struggle to fund higher education. The documents extensively show a steady decline in tenured faculty, a shrinking graduate-employee population, and the corporatizing of education.

The papers also reveal the mask of the “budget crisis” at the UI, showing that recent years have been tremendously profitable for the university and its administrators.

“This is the reason COGS was formed 20 years ago, and it’s still a fight,” said Julia Schmidt, an alumna and previous director of the American Association of University Professors at the UI. “It’s a long-term struggle. It’s a struggle that COGS is on the forefront at this campus.”

In the white papers, the group cites UI President Bruce Harreld being offered a $65,000 increase over what former President Sally Mason earned while in office — marking an annual salary of $590,000 for Harreld.

The regents also changed the title of their executive director, Bob Donley, to chief executive officer to bypass an Iowa statute that caps Donley’s salary at $154,000, according to the papers. He is now paid $240,000, to which regents said Donley hasn’t had a raise in years.

The papers also revealed that UI Vice President for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard now makes $842,523, a 177 percent increase over eight years since his starting salary of $474,588.61.

In total, the papers document UI paying 117 administrators $25,111,263.90 in 2015, averaging $214,626.10 per administrator, a sum that is $70,000 more than UI’s peers at other four-year institutions.

The group shouted at a number of campus tours passing by and Lil’ Bruce Harreld, a graduate student impersonating Harreld, followed tour guides pressing them with questions by using a symbolic jar of peanut butter, offering that school administrators don’t know how to “spread the peanut butter.”

Have a great day,” a nervous tour guide responded as he ushered prospective students past the Pentacrest. “Don’t scare the customers,” a protester joked.

“Other groups need to unionize. Everybody needs to act in solidarity together. That’s the only way,” Schmidt said. “It’s exploitation and we all need to fight this. Clearly we have some work to do, but I’m proud to share that struggle.”

“I think a lot of times it’s easy for the university community to notice issues, but not really see it first hand everyday,” said Josh Peterson, an alumnus of COGS. “A lot of the work we do is not public, it’s not visible. This rally is to make our voices and what we do on this campus more visible.”

John Logsdon, an associate professor of biology, raised concerns about the separation between those making decisions and those doing groundwork at the UI.

“We know what it is like to be grad students,” he said. “Those with academic degrees are not running this university,” he said, referencing Harreld’s business background.

History Professor Emeritus Shelton Stromquist took pride in the way COGS has organized the group throughout the years.

“We’re at an interesting time at this university in which we find ourselves at the forefront to preserve public higher education. It’s under attack, not just in Iowa, but across the country,” he said.

During protest, Stromquist cited the old labor movie, The Inheritance. “Every generation has got to do it again,” he said. “That has been at the foundation of the success in this union.”

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