CORONAVIRUS

Iowa State engineering college warns of 'fewer faculty' going forward

ISU imposing cuts with shorter renewals, attrition

Two students sit in front of Curtiss Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. (The Gazette)
Two students sit in front of Curtiss Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. (The Gazette)
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With colleges across Iowa’s public universities continuing to grapple with worsening budget blows — as coronavirus-related losses mount, enrollment projections slide and lawmakers cut funding — a growing number of faculty and staff are learning of reductions, including at Iowa State.

W. Samuel Easterling, dean of the ISU College of Engineering, this week emailed faculty and staff, warning they should “expect to see fewer faculty members in the college, and across the university, going forward.”

“The reductions will be in both the term faculty and tenure-track faculty ranks,” Easterling said, referencing professors working toward the protections afforded by tenure and those who hold limited-term renewable appointments and are not eligible for tenure.

“We will utilize faculty departures and retirements to the extent possible,” he said.

Easterling also announced non-tenure-track faculty who received appointment renewals in May were given “the minimal renewal appointment term consistent with faculty handbook guidelines.”

That decision, he said, “was driven by maintaining flexibility in the next few years as we continue to manage workload demands.”

He also clarified that the decision “was mine and not a directive from Provost (Jonathan) Wickert. I know that he met with multiple groups, including Faculty Senate, and perhaps the misunderstanding came from comments that he made about faculty workforce going forward in the near term.”

All of Iowa’s public universities are facing COVID-19-compelled losses and extra expenses, with the University of Iowa estimating its hit at $76 million through August; Iowa State anticipating an impact of $89 million through the same period; and the University of Northern Iowa projecting its losses at $28 million.

Those estimates came in April, though, with much still unknown about enrollment for fall.

Easterling in his message this week reported enrollment is a primary player in faculty cuts.

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“Faculty size is driven in large part by our enrollment and related instructional needs,” he wrote. “As you know, enrollment at Iowa State and our College of Engineering has been declining the past few years — a trend that will continue based on projections.”

ISU’s engineering college reported 7,597 undergraduates in fall 2019, down from 8,193 in fall 2018 and 8,255 in fall 2017.

ISU officials have not announced projections for any college for the upcoming and unprecedented fall semester, which Iowa State plans to deliver in a hybrid fashion — using both in-person and online instruction.

But all three public university campuses expect enrollment declines this fall.

“It is a budgetary reality that as the enrollment declines, so does the portion of our budget supported by tuition,” Easterling said in his faculty email this week.

The UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences earlier this month announced the need to cut $15 million to $25 million due to enrollment declines and state funding losses. Steps included cutting 15 instructional-track faculty, enabling furloughs, eliminating raises and curtailing adjunct and visiting professor budgets.

Many UI faculty and staff members have aired concerns over how those cuts were imposed and questioned whether the university is violating its own policies by asking staff to teach more semester hours than allowed and cutting people without enough notice.

Although many of the decisions are happening at the college level across Iowa’s public universities, the campus presidents earlier this year warned of difficult budget decisions coming.

ISU President Wendy Wintersteen in April asked all units to implement a 5 percent budget reduction for the fiscal year starting July 1 and to plan for another 5 percent cut in fiscal 2022.

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“In addition, there will not be a performance-based compensation increase for faculty, (professional and scientific) staff, post docs, and contract associates on July 1,” Wintersteen said in her April message.

And Easterling in his message this week indicated deans and chairs are “working very hard to make our pending budget reductions without reducing current personnel.”

Conceding he doesn’t yet have the upcoming year’s budget, the dean said he fully expects to be able to handle personnel reductions “primarily, if not totally, through attrition.”

“I know that other colleges are in a position where they have to eliminate term faculty positions and/or switch from full-time to part-time appointments,” he said. “I am thankful that we are not in that position.”

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

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