The University of Minnesota has announced that it will close its popular campus day-care center after 45 years, setting off howls of protests from parents.
On Monday, the dean of education notified families that the U’s Child Development Center, which opened in 1974, will close in the summer of 2019. Almost immediately, parents — in this case, professors, staff and graduate students — formed a Facebook group, UMCDC Parents Organizing, to voice their outrage and plot a strategy to overturn the decision.
“Parents heard about this on Monday afternoon and we were stunned,” said Kathryn Pearson, an associate professor of political science who has two children at the center. “No one had any idea that this was coming.”
The center, which cares for 140 children ages 3 months to 5½, is the only day-care center owned and operated by the university, officials said.
The letter from Jean Quam, dean of the College of Education and Human Development, said the center would close in 18 months to make room to expand another early childhood program, called the Shirley Moore Laboratory School, which is used for research and training. Unlike the day-care center, the lab school is not full time and operates only nine months a year.
Quam said the change has been under consideration, at least among top administrators, for some time.
“We started talking about whether or not we were the best entity to be running a day care,” she said. Her college spends about $500,000 to $600,000 a year subsidizing the day-care center, she said. And she believes those funds could be better spent on projects “more in keeping with our mission.”
But parents say they’re appalled the university would close a program that’s been held up as a national model. “The care we have gotten for our children just has been exceptional,” said Sara Hurley, an instructional design specialist at the School of Public Health. She noted that the center, on the Minneapolis campus, is so popular that it has a yearlong waiting list. “So it’s not a failing institution.”
Tetyana Shippee, an associate professor of public health, said the center is also a powerful recruiting tool for women faculty. “One of the main reasons why women leave academia is because of the challenge of balancing motherhood and the expectations of being an academic,” she said. Having top-notch day care on campus, she said, is a big draw.
Quam says she’s sympathetic to their concerns, and she plans to meet with parents at the center Thursday afternoon to hear them out. She said the college plans to work with parents and staff to find alternatives, which could include hiring an outside company to run a day-care center on campus.
“We’re giving families 18 months and will help them try to find other child care,” she said. “I think we’ve done an excellent job with it, but I think there are people who can do as good a job if not better.”