Education

University of Iowa non-tenure-track faculty organize, submit list of demands

Now the majority of the faculty, the group submits list of demands

University of Iowa associate professor of instruction Megan Knight speaks from the steps of Old Capitol during the We Are The Majority March on the Pentacrest in Iowa City, Iowa, on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. University of Iowa non-tenure track faculty gathered to deliver their union support letter with nearly 200 CLAS non-tenure track faculty signatures and their list of demands to UI President Bruce Harreld. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
University of Iowa associate professor of instruction Megan Knight speaks from the steps of Old Capitol during the We Are The Majority March on the Pentacrest in Iowa City, Iowa, on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. University of Iowa non-tenure track faculty gathered to deliver their union support letter with nearly 200 CLAS non-tenure track faculty signatures and their list of demands to UI President Bruce Harreld. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — They now are in the majority, at least at the University of Iowa, and they want UI President Bruce Harreld and his administration to know it — and act like it.

Dozens of the UIs 1,700-some non-tenure-track faculty, along with tenured allies and supporters, rallied Wednesday before marching to Harreld’s office to deliver a letter promoting their efforts to organize and their demands.

They say they want a voice in policy decisions. They want longer and more stable employment contracts. They want transparency around hiring decisions and pay justification. And they want standard yearly raises — among other things.

“Nontenure track faculty have experienced stagnant wages at the University of Iowa for years,” according to their petition. “In some cases, factoring in inflation, we make less in real dollars than when we started. This has happened while the university has asked us to take on more and more work and responsibilities.”

The group wants a reply to its letter, signed by nearly 200 non-tenure-track faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, by Friday.

Among its demands, the group wants “union rights” — despite controversial legislation last year that sharply curtailed what topics are required to be bargained over in negotiations with many of Iowa’s public-sector unions.

The UI group is part of a nationwide “Faculty Forward” movement supported by the Service Employees International Union. The movement — which has united more than 50,000 faculty and graduate workers from coast to coast — is fighting for better job security, transparency, improved support, compensation and benefits and inclusion in academic communities.

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This week’s activities at the UI follow a recent Board of Regents report showing UI non-tenure-track faculty now outnumber those with tenure — a status providing job security “in order to create and maintain an atmosphere for the free exchange of ideas and inquiry necessary for educating Iowa’s students and advancing knowledge in democracy.”

Faculty on a tenure track can secure the coveted status by serving a probationary period typically lasting six years and undergoing extensive internal and external peer reviews.

The regents’ most recent report shows the UI now has 1,754 non-tenure-track faculty, up from 1,589 in the 2015-16 academic year. That means non-tenure-track faculty now account for more than half of all UI faculty, at 54 percent. Just three years ago, non-tenure-track faculty were still in the minority at 48 percent.

At Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, non-tenure-track faculty make up a much smaller portion of the total faculty, with 31 percent at both institutions.

Conversely, tenured and tenure-track faculty at UI are on the decline, from 1,564 in 2015-16 to 1,516 in the most recent year, according to the board report.

Tenure, and the ability to get it, is among the most desired faculty benefits and weighs into applicants shopping for an academic home.

With tenure becoming less common, the group Wednesday urged more tenure-like protections like “longer, more stable, and more equitable contracts.”

“Many of us struggle to plan our lives because we do not know semester to semester, year to year if we will be teaching at the University of Iowa,” the letter said.

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The university is at the same time coping with state funding cuts that have led to a five-month freeze on new UI campus construction.

A new “Faculty Forward” report issued Wednesday in conjunction with the rally reports state support for public higher education in Iowa has been cut more than $180 million between 2003 and 2017, adjusting for inflation.

During the same period, enrollment grew — meaning spending per student dropped 26.4 percent. The state today is contributing $2,216 less per student than it did in 2003, the report found.

In promoting the need for more state support — and higher tuition — Harreld repeatedly has pointed to the importance of recruiting and retaining elite faculty.

But UI Lecturer of Interdisciplinary Programs Elizabeth Weiss is among those without tenure calling on administrators to “do better.”

“Join us in our fight,” she said. “Because it is not only a fight to achieve fairer, more equitable, more humane working conditions for our nontenure track faculty, but a fight for the future of the University of Iowa.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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