Iowa universities report fewer tenured, tenure-track faculty

Faculty resignations up at Iowa State, down at University of Iowa

The campanile at Iowa State University in Ames.
The campanile at Iowa State University in Ames.

The number and proportion of tenured faculty across Iowa’s Board of Regents universities is continuing to slide, while non-tenure-track faculty figures are rising, according to a new report made public Tuesday.

Tenure, and the ability to obtain tenure, is among the benefits faculty members consider when shopping for an academic home. And Iowa’s public universities of late have talked a lot about the need to recruit and retain the best and brightest faculty at a time of significant budget woes — with the state cutting support for the institutions more than $40 million since 2017.

Lawmakers this year and last proposed bills to eliminate tenure at the public universities — arguing for the need to more easily get rid of bad professors. But those proposals floundered, with regent and legislative opponents espousing the benefits of tenure — a status that provides faculty job security “in order to create and maintain an atmosphere for the free exchange of ideas and inquiry necessary for educating Iowa’s students and advancing knowledge in democracy.”

Faculty on track for tenure secure the status after serving a probationary period that typically lasts six years and after undergoing extensive and comprehensive internal and external peer reviews.

But the number of non-tenure-track faculty is increasing at all three of Iowa’s public universities. University of Iowa, according to new Board of Regents documents, reports 1,754 non-tenure-track faculty in the current academic year, up from 1,589 in the 2015-16 term.

That group now accounts for more than half the UI faculty workforce, at 54 percent. Figures remain lower at Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa, both of which report 31 percent of their total faculty are nontenure track.

But both schools are seeing an uptick, while conversely reporting fewer who are tenured or tenure-track.


At the University of Iowa, tenured and tenure-track faculty numbers have fallen from 1,564 in 2015-16 to 1,516 in the most recent year. Iowa State has seen its total decrease over the same period from 1,390 to 1,362, and UNI has seen that figure fall from 555 to 522.

When looking at total faculty numbers, UI is the only school that has seen an increase since 2015-16, while both UNI and Iowa State are reporting fewer faculty — indicative of budget cuts and limited general education resources.

In a separate report made public Tuesday, Iowa State reported an uptick in faculty resignations in 2017, while University of Iowa reported a decrease and UNI resignations remained about level.

Iowa State saw 44 faculty resignations last year, up from 24 in 2016; UI reported 73 faculty resignations, down from 94; and UNI reported 16 resignations, up one from 15. On their way out, resigning faculty are questioned about their experience and reasons for leaving.

Those leaving the University of Iowa reported the most satisfaction with its general atmosphere and the least satisfaction with compensation. The primary reason for leaving was to accept a position at another university.

At Iowa State, the main reasons for leaving included better opportunity elsewhere, dissatisfaction with the department or college environment; lack of spousal accommodations and opportunities; and geographic location.

All three universities employ strategies to improve faculty retention, including providing mentoring programs for pre-tenure faculty, providing professional development opportunities; and improving compensation and retention packages.

But those efforts can been limited by funding cuts — with Iowa State over the summer deciding not to mandate faculty and staff pay raises.


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UI President Bruce Harreld has been vocal about the need to increase faculty pay to maintain the university’s reputation, competitiveness, and student experience. In light of state funding cuts, Harreld last month pointed to faculty compensation in justifying tuition increases.

“To fulfill our mission of student success, research, scholarship, and economic development, the university must continue to recruit new talent and provide competitive salaries for high-performing employees,” he wrote in a campus message. “To do that, the university must increase its tuition so that it can compete nationally for the best and brightest faculty and staff.

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