Education

Fewer tenured or tenure-track faculty teaching in Iowa universities

Regent survey notes Iowa is not alone in trend

Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — A growing portion of classroom instruction across Iowa’s three public universities is coming from non-tenure-track faculty, according to a new Board of Regents survey.

The survey also found faculty across the campuses report working on average 50 to 55 hours a week.

That average — according to the biannual survey the regents administered earlier this year, with a nearly 80 percent response rate — was down from an average of 53 to 58 hours a week in the 2012-13 academic year.

The University of Iowa reports the highest percent of non-tenure-track classroom instruction — with 54 percent of total student credit hours taught by non-tenure-track faculty, up from 47 percent in 2016.

UI tenured and tenure-track faculty in 2018 reported teaching 38 percent of total student credit hours, down from 43 percent in 2016, according to the report.

When looking just at undergraduate credit hours, an even higher portion is taught by non-tenure-track faculty — 55 percent — while 35 percent of undergraduate hours is taught by tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Although the University of Northern Iowa reports the highest percent of credit hours taught by faculty with tenure or on track to get tenure, that campus saw the biggest swings from 2016 to 2018 — reporting a 10 percent jump from 25 percent to 35 percent in hours taught by non-tenure-track faculty.

Likewise, total hours taught by tenure or tenure-track UNI faculty fell from 74 percent to 64 percent.

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And while Iowa State University didn’t experience big changes over the two-year span, the institution also is reporting growth in non-tenure-track classroom instruction — reaching 39 percent from 38 percent. Tenure and tenure-track faculty account for 49 percent of credit hour instruction, down slightly from 50 percent.

Iowa State taps its graduate assistants more than the other campuses for classroom instruction — at 11 percent in 2018, compared with 8 percent at the UI and 1 percent at UNI.

That low percentage of classes taught by graduate assistants is a point of pride for the campuses, with the regents reporting, “A frequent concern from the public is that undergraduate teaching may be primarily done by graduate assistants.”

NATIONAL TREND

The trend toward more non-tenure-track instruction is occurring across the country — not just in Iowa, according to the regent survey,

“These trends also reflect the change in faculty appointments at universities,” according to the board report.

The share of UI faculty with tenure, for example, has been declining in recent years.

Non-tenure-track UI faculty represented 41 percent of the full-time-equivalent, instruction-related fund groups in the fall of 2018, compared to 21 percent in the fall of 2000.

Iowa State’s uptick in non-tenure-track faculty instruction also was the result of “changes in enrollment,” which for years surged on the Ames campus, according to the board report.

Undergraduate enrollment swelled more than 6 percent from 2014 to 2016, “necessitating additional hiring of instructional faculty — most typically into the nontenure track.”

UNI also blamed its drop in tenure and tenure-track instruction on enrollment — but for the opposite reason — reporting unexpected declines.

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“This percentage is expected to rebound in the coming years as a result of the university’s efforts to increase total enrollment,” according to the report.

HOW TENURE WORKS

Iowa’s regent universities each have different policies and practices around tenure but, generally, those hired into tenure-track positions serve a probationary period of six to seven years and undergo extensive reviews before achieving full tenure status.

A full tenure award involves expert reviews from both inside and outside the institution and amounts to an indefinite academic appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances.

UI policy notes, “A good university must create an atmosphere which, in a positive way, encourages faculty members to express new ideas and divergent viewpoints and to make inquiries unbounded by present norms.

“Tenure has contributed substantially to the creation of this atmosphere and to its continuance,” according to the UI policy. “Put simply, free inquiry and expression are essential to the maintenance of excellence; tenure is essential to free inquiry and expression.”

Plus, according to the policy, tenure is paramount in faculty recruiting and retention.

“The tenure system must continue if the university is to recruit and maintain a distinguished faculty,” according to UI policy, which notes “outstanding universities throughout the country have tenure systems.

“The University of Iowa’s competitive position as it attempts to recruit and to retain outstanding faculty members would be damaged beyond repair if tenure were abandoned or seriously weakened.”

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

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