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Share of UI faculty with tenure continues to shrink

Hospital needs partly differentiate it from ISU and UNI

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 — While the total number of faculty members at the University of Iowa has been inching up, the share of them who are tenured or on track to become tenured has been dropping, a new report shows.

The trend — more stark than at Iowa’s two other public universities — comes as some state lawmakers and UI administrators have staked out opposite positions on the job security that comes with tenure.

Bills seeking to abolish tenure have been introduced in each of the last two years of the Iowa Legislature, but then not gained traction. At the same time, UI administrators have been outspoken about its value.

“Academic freedom and tenure really are at the core of who we are, what we are about, what we do, and what our mission in service to society is,” UI President Bruce Harreld wrote in a 2017 message to faculty. “My job as president is to make sure that this character is understood, supported, and enhanced at our institution and among the public that supports us.”

Still, the UI tenured faculty tally this academic year is 1,172 — or 35 percent of the total 3,332 faculty members. That percentage is down slightly from last year, and also the year before.

And it’s well below the 46 percent seen in the 2008-09 term.

For UI tenure-track faculty, the most recent ratio of 10 percent is below the 2008-09 share of 14 percent of the total.


On the flip side, the numbers and percentages of non-tenure-track faculty at the UI have been increasing.

The UI’s nontenure track faculty account for more than half of all faculty positions — now 55 percent, compared with 40 percent a decade ago.

UI officials told The Gazette the drop in tenure and tenure-track faculty “is a noted trend nationwide.”

“The changing needs of higher education has put pressure on the university to build more flexibility into its faculty appointments, and the university has hired more clinical and instructional track faculty to fulfill changing demands in the research, educational, and service missions,” Associate Provost Kevin Kregel said in a statement.

When compared with Iowa’s other public universities, UI unequivocally has the smallest percentage of tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Iowa State University reports 51 percent of its faculty is tenured and 19 percent is tenure-track. The University of Northern Iowa reports 53 percent of its faculty is tenured and 16 percent is tenure-track.

Although UNI has seen subtle trends like those at the UI, ISU’s percentages have remained fairly stable. If anything, ISU is reporting a recent slight increase in the share of tenure and tenure-track faculty.

Kregel, though, cautioned against comparing faculty numbers between Iowa’s public universities as “not always apples to apples.”


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“UI has significantly more clinical track faculty (nontenure) than ISU in part because of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where the majority of clinical track faculty at the UI teach,” Kregel said.

Neither ISU nor UNI promote faculty members without tenure — something the UI has been doing at a faster clip, according to the report to the regents.

For the 2019-20 academic year, the UI is planning 137 promotion and tenure actions — half of which, 69, are promotions without tenure. Kregel credited that increase, in part, to the number of UI clinical faculty — particularly in the College of Medicine.

“Another factor is related to the implementation of the Instructional Faculty Policy in 2016, which creates clearer pathways for promotion for lecturers,” he said.

All of the proposed promotions at ISU and UNI involve tenure, the board documents show.

“As a matter of practice, Iowa State typically does not promote assistant professors to associate professors without tenure,” ISU Provost Jonathan Wickert told The Gazette in an email.

Wickert credited ISU faculty size and stability to a combination of leveling enrollment and decreasing appropriations.

“Our main focus has been hiring to replace faculty who retire or leave the university to ensure students’ needs are met,” Wickert said.

Although each of Iowa’s regent universities has different policies and practices around tenure, faculty hired into a tenure-track position generally serve a probationary period lasting six to seven years, undergoing extensive reviews during that time.


A full tenure award involves expert reviews from both inside and outside the university. And all three schools have a post-tenure review process that involves peer evaluations.

In terms of total tenure and promotion actions for the three regent universities combined, women are accounting for a larger percentage — with 48 percent to the men’s 52 percent for the upcoming year, compared with 33 percent to the men’s 67 percent a decade ago.

At the UI, 17 women and 21 men are being recommended for promotion with tenure in the upcoming year. ISU is seeking promotion with tenure for 13 women and 20 men, and UNI is asking to promote with tenure 11 women and 10 men, the report shows.

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