Education

Iowa Board of Regents, slapped with another 'prohibited practice,' continues to evade penalty

'It is unfortunate that some intermediate remedy does not exist to impose consequences on (the Board of Regents)'

Iowa Board of Regents executive director Mark Braun speaks to Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen as membe
Iowa Board of Regents executive director Mark Braun speaks to Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen as members of the union SEIU take over the Iowa Board of Regents meeting at the university’s Levitt Center for University Advancement in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Just months after being ordered to post a notice alerting the public it had committed a prohibited practice, the Board of Regents has been found to have committed another violation — proving, the board’s critics say, that more severe sanctions are needed.

“The judge noted that a cease-and-desist order may not be sufficient to prevent future violations, and we are finding that to be true,” said Becky Hawbaker, a University of Northern Iowa faculty member and president of her campus’ United Faculty union.

Regents spokesman Josh Lehman declined Monday to comment.

An administrative law judge last month found the board committed a prohibited practice, this time by refusing to provide United Faculty with data it requested on tenure and promotion decisions, along with annual evaluation outcomes.

The union wanted the information for its wage negotiations and grievance advocacy. Administrative Law Judge Amber DeSmet on Dec. 18 found the request reasonable and ordered the board to hand it over.

But, Hawbaker said, “They have not turned over the information and are appealing the ruling rather than complying.”

DeSmet also ordered the board — which governs Iowa’s three public universities — to post a public notice of its prohibited practice, mirroring a similar “slap-on-the-wrist” punishment issued by the Public Employment Relations Board over the summer.

That governor-appointed board in June ordered the regents to post a “cease and desist” notice for 30 days after finding they in 2017 bargained in bad faith with their UNI and University of Iowa unions.

UNI’s United Faculty appealed that remedy, arguing it wasn’t harsh enough. A District Court judge last week agreed, but said he had no better penalty at his disposal.

“It is unfortunate that some intermediate remedy does not exist to impose consequences on (the Board of Regents) to prevent a similar violation in the future,” Judge Jeffrey Farrell wrote.

Farrell, though, said he can’t turn back the clock to some date in January 2017 when the board committed the prohibited practice by refusing to bargain in good faith with its unions while a new GOP-controlled Legislature pushed through changes to state law limiting the bargaining rights of public sector unions.

But United Faculty on Friday voted to appeal that ruling and explore other legal actions — while also voicing appreciation for the judge’s commentary that the facts “scream out for something more than a cease-and-desist order.”

The new violations date to April 3 when United Faculty sought, among other things, university records on faculty evaluations.

The board denied that request April 16, arguing the union lost its Chapter 20 rights to the requested information, prompting United Faculty to file a complaint the next day.

In making its case, United Faculty argued the evaluation information is relevant to base wages — the law’s only remaining mandatory bargaining topic.

The union also argued the data is relevant to the topics of merit increases and to grievances, which are covered in the faculty handbook.

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“The regents contend the information is not relevant to base wages, the Board of Regents is not required to supply information relevant to permissive topics of bargaining, and the Board of Regents is not required to supply information for a grievance process that does not arise from Chapter 20 negotiations,” according to Judge DeSmet, who disagreed.

“As the Board of Regents has not advanced any other statute that would demonstrate this information is protected from disclosure or privileged, the regents have a duty to comply with United Faculty’s request for evaluation information,” she wrote.

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

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