Higher education

University of Iowa sees another increase in faculty resignations

100 members depart in year of significant changes

The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — After last year’s 36 percent increase in faculty resignations, the University of Iowa saw even more members depart in the most recently completed fiscal year, in part due to “intense competition for the best and brightest.”

The 100 faculty resignations during the 2016 budget year is up 11 percent from last year and 52 percent from the 2014 budget year, marking the highest faculty resignation tally since at least 1987, according to Board of Regents records.

The resignations came during a year of significant change at the university, including in the presidential role with the departure of Sally Mason and the arrival of Bruce Harreld. The selection of Harreld, a former IBM businessman with no academic administrative experience, created unrest across the campus — with faculty and student leaders issuing votes of no-confidence in the Board of Regents.

The board came under fire for ignoring widespread disapproval of Harreld’s candidacy, and the American Association of University Professors sanctioned the university — aiming its criticism at the regents — for violating shared-governance values in hiring Harreld.

This last budget year also saw the Board of Regents approve its first increase in resident undergraduate tuition in three years. And it’s looking to raise rates even further in the upcoming fall. Those proposed hikes, according to regents and Harreld, are tied to shortcomings in Legislative appropriations and a dramatic decline in state support over the past few decades — dwindling resources available to recruit and retain faculty.

Kevin Kregel, associate provost for faculty, said every resignation is unique, and fingering a root cause or producing a blanket explanation can be difficult.

“There are a range of reasons why faculty depart the UI,” he wrote in an email to The Gazette.

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The university last year reported 65 of its 90 resignations — or 72 percent — occurred in the Carver College of Medicine, which Kregel at the time said was reflective of that college’s “unique population.” Academic health care — and health care in general — is a “competitive market,” he said, with faculty being recruited by other organizations or lured into private practice or to government entities — like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

Kregel on Tuesday told The Gazette the intense competition for talented faculty continues both in the College of Medicine and across campus.

“This competition comes from other universities, as well as the private sector,” he said. “We also see faculty take positions associated with professional advancement opportunities.”

He said family considerations also affect faculty departure decisions.

Faculty resignation totals for the 2016 budget year were not immediately available for Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa.

Harreld has cited rising faculty resignations as a need for proposed across-the-board tuition increases for the upcoming school year — ranging from $300 for resident undergraduates to $800 for some non-resident business students.

In a recent campuswide message, Harreld said, “Many of our best are being successfully recruited to other institutions — often those in our competitive peer group. Vying for the best faculty with institutions like these requires significant resources,” he said. “And we have fewer and fewer at our disposal.”

Harreld said the university is at a “breaking point” and could rise to “new heights.”

“But not if we continue to lose our current faculty or are unable to recruit new talent that can successfully compete with that of our institutional peers,” he said. “That is why we seek new revenue from the citizens of our state and our students, as well as increased grant funding and support from our donors.”

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The Board of Regents on July 18 is scheduled to vote on the proposed tuition increases for the upcoming fall — not just for UI students but for Iowa State and UNI students.

Iowa State officials have said they need to increase tuition due to year-after-year record enrollment growth. UNI officials have pointed to the school’s high in-state student populace that doesn’t pay enough in tuition to cover the cost of their education.

Although all three schools have proposed tuition hikes for the upcoming fall, UI has proposed the steepest increases. At the board’s last meeting, where regents considered the tuition increase for the first time, UI students proposed an alternative increase of $200 for all students.

The original proposal is expected to generate $21.1 million across the three regent universities, and Harreld has said cutting that total by instituting the student suggestion would “make it a lot more difficult” to get the university back into the top ranks nationally.

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