March 5, 2012
An open letter to students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of UNI:
As all of you know, the University of Northern Iowa is a special place -- a place to earn an outstanding education in a beautifully maintained academic setting. Many of you are currently participating in or witnessing heated discussions and disagreements occurring on campus and in the community and are concerned about the future of UNI. Let me first of all assure you that the future of this university looks strong and bright. From my first year on campus the goal has always been to take this great university and make it even greater by focusing on the strengths that set us apart (the finest undergraduate education in the state, the strongest liberal arts core, the premier pre-K through 12 teacher education program). Let me address some of those strengths.
I truly believe that UNI offers the best undergraduate education in the state of Iowa. We have an outstanding group of faculty and staff committed to educating our students. We all remain steadfast in that commitment. I urge you to see the current discussions and disagreements as evidence of the passion that is felt for UNI. Rest assured that the goal will remain the same and that we will come together as an even stronger institution.
In addition, our belief that a strong liberal arts core provides our students with the best possible education remains in the forefront as discussions continue and decisions are made about program changes. While we all would like to see the funding of our state universities return to previous levels, we cannot let the quality of our educational offering slip while we wait and hope for that to happen. We must take advantage of this crisis to look at what we are doing and how we are doing it. Discussions have been occurring across campus for several years about program changes. While no final decisions have been made, let me assure you that we are going to make decisions that will result in UNI and our liberal arts core being stronger and more relevant for the future.
Much concern has also been expressed about the commitment to teacher education. I have spoken the words "UNI must be the leader in pre-K through 12 education in the state of Iowa and among the leaders in the nation" in literally every talk I have given throughout the state over the past six years. That commitment is evidenced by the fact that for the first time ever pre-K through 12 education was added as a goal in UNI's strategic plan; by the fact that the largest gift in the history of UNI was an academic gift directed to the College of Education; and by the fact that the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiative leadership is centered at UNI.
To reach that goal requires making changes. Loyalty to the Malcolm Price Laboratory School is understandable; it is convenient, it is comfortable and it is what we have known for years and years. However, not only is the operation of a laboratory school financially unsustainable, but also it is questionable whether the model is the best way to prepare our future teachers. I have been approached by teachers, principals and superintendents from schools large and small within a 30-minute radius of UNI who are excited about the prospect of having our level II education majors in their classrooms. Our students simply must get their experiences in more diverse, "real-world" classroom settings within which they will ultimately teach.
We all know that change is difficult in any organization -- it is unsettling and disruptive. However, our imagination for the future must be greater than our commitment to the past.
Benjamin J. Allen