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IOWA CITY — More than half the nearly 6,000 University of Iowa faculty and staff who responded to a recent campus climate survey said they’ve “seriously considered leaving the university” in the last 12 months — primarily due to pay, workplace culture, or career advancement.
UI released its climate survey findings the same week a union representing thousands of UI Health Care workers demanded a 14-percent pay raise and, among other things, more safety protections for nurses and medical professionals — given rising patient-on-staff violence in recent months and years.
“People are leaving,” UIHC registered nurse Courtney Smith told Board of Regents negotiators last week following their initial contract proposal offering a 1.5- to 3-percent pay raise.
New findings from UI’s climate survey — distributed in March 2022 to 45,580 faculty, staff, and undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, yielding a 23-percent response rate — touched a range of topics affecting the campus experience, including retention, free speech, diversity, and bias.
Of the 5,759 faculty, staff, and postdoctoral students who responded to the survey, 36 percent said they'd experienced some form of negative bias, intimidation, or hostile treatment. Three-quarters of that group said the bias made them consider leaving UI — up from 69 percent in 2020.
The percent was higher among specific demographics — like the underrepresented minority, multiracial, disabled, or LGTBQ groups. And bias also impacted performance for 70 percent of those who experienced it; eroded confidence for 69 percent; and affected the health of 72 percent.
“Experienced bias is among the top five reasons for considering leaving the university,” according to the climate survey.
Topping bias among reasons respondents considered leaving UI was salary, cited by 62 percent; workplace climate and culture, cited by 59 percent; and career advancement opportunity, with 43 percent. The overall percent of respondents who said they'd seriously considered leaving was up 12 percentage points in 2022 from 39 percent in 2018.
⧉ Related article: University of Iowa employee salaries for fiscal year 2022
Free speech, diversity
Assessing other hot campus-culture topics — like free speech and diversity efforts — the survey found most undergraduate student respondents felt faculty encouraged “expression of diverse viewpoints.”
Fewer professional students felt so — at 78 percent. And — across all student levels — the portion who agreed faculty encourage diverse viewpoints was lower among minorities and conservative students, striking at the heart of a long-held grievance among Republican lawmakers, who for years have hammered Iowa’s regent universities for perceived left-leaning policies, practices, and professors.
"I don't care if it's left or right, there's no excuse for intimidation of free speech,“ Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, told regent heads in 2021 during a hearing on the topic.
A solid majority of students, faculty, and staff agreed in the survey that UI prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion — although the 83 percent was down from 91 percent in 2018. And 36 percent of faculty and staff said UI puts “too much emphasis” on DEI, while 27 percent of faculty and staff said DEI “distracts from achieving our academic mission,” according to the survey.
“The common thread from these findings is to continue our focus on unifying our campus culture,” Liz Tovar, executive officer and associate vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, said in a statement — referencing the survey UI has administered every two years since 2018.
‘Working at Iowa’
UI Human Resources in October also collected data from employees via a “Working at Iowa” survey — sent to 6,310 faculty and staff, excluding those with UI Health Care, which will release its own study findings later this month.
Of the 4,355 UI employees who responded to the working survey — representing a 69-percent response rate — a vast majority agreed at some level they have explicit work expectations, a respectful supervisor, and clear goals.
Fewer respondents strongly agreed or agreed that units distribute workloads fairly — at 53 percent; that UI recognizes faculty and staff achievements — at 46 percent; and that UI offers promotion opportunities — at 47 percent.
When looking at responses broken down by type of employee — including faculty members, professional and scientific staff, and merit workers, including blue collar and clerical positions — a smaller percent of merit employees strongly agreed that UI offers promotion opportunities, at 13 percent; that UI treats them with respect, at 15 percent; and that UI recognizes their accomplishments, at 12 percent.
Addressing those low-performing areas on the survey, according to UI Chief Human Resources Officer Cheryl Reardon, could help UI with its retention struggles — highlighted in the adjacent climate survey.
“Highly engaged employees are essential to the university’s mission of providing a world-class education,” Reardon said in a statement. “Working on these areas where we see lower agreement will help us attract and retain the best faculty and staff to carry out that mission.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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