Education

Tenured faculty slide continues on Iowa's regent campuses

Campuses make COVID-19 concessions for tenure clock

The Old Capitol on the University of Iowa campus Pentacrest, Iowa City, Iowa
The Old Capitol on the University of Iowa campus Pentacrest, Iowa City, Iowa

The number and percent of tenured- and tenure-track professors across Iowa’s public universities is continuing to drop, according to a new Board of Regents report, which shows non-tenure-track faculty numbers surging on the University of Iowa campus.

The report, provided to regents Wednesday, comes as the campuses make unprecedented changes amid the COVID-19 outbreak — moving this semester’s courses online, closing most buildings, halting travel, pausing some research, and altering faculty work duties.

With those coronavirus changes, all three of Iowa’s public universities have implemented temporary policies relevant to tenure-seeking faculty — including giving probationary tenure-track faulty the option of a one-year extension on their tenure clock.

Those extensions give probationary faculty more time before their scheduled reviews, which are necessary for obtaining tenure — a type of indefinite academic appointment giving faculty job security “in order to create and maintain an atmosphere for the free exchange of ideas and inquiry,” according to the Board of Regents.

Termination of a tenured faculty member only occurs if he or she doesn’t meet employment obligations, or the university terminates a program or finds itself in a financial emergency.

Faculty hired into tenure-track positions must serve a probationary period that typically lasts six years and involves ongoing internal reviews as well as assessments from external peer experts.

“The unprecedented and rapidly-changing academic environment created by COVID-19 should not unfairly impact faculty on the tenure track,” according to an Iowa State University message on its temporary tenure policy. “Therefore, a one-year tenure clock extension will be approved for any faculty member who requests one because their work has been disrupted by this situation.”

Tenure drops

The number of tenured faculty members on all three of Iowa’s public universities has gone down — not just from last year or the year before but from a decade ago, when the campuses collectively boasted more tenured faculty despite having fewer total faculty.

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In the 2009-2010 academic year, tenured faculty accounted for 52 percent of the 5,348 total faculty across the UI, ISU, and University of Northern Iowa campuses. In the new report for the current academic year, tenured faculty accounted for 41 percent of the 6,028 total faculty.

Tenure-track faculty, according to the new report, make up 13 percent of total faculty, compared to 16 percent a decade ago. Conversely, non-tenure-track faculty today account for 46 percent of total faculty — well above the 32 percent from a decade ago.

The University of Iowa has seen the largest changes in its tenure- vs. non-tenure-track numbers, with the non-tenure-track group now making up the majority of faculty — at 57 percent. A decade ago, non-tenure-track faculty accounted for 40 percent of total UI faculty.

The UI today is the only one of the three public universities reporting its tenured faculty account for fewer than half their faculty total — at 34 percent. Iowa State and UNI, conversely, report tenured faculty account for 51 percent and 54 percent respectively.

The University of Iowa also reports the smallest percentage of tenure-track faculty at 10 percent, according to the new report. That is below Iowa State’s 18 percent, UNI’s 16 percent, and its own 14 percent from a decade ago.

Regarding new promotion and tenure actions, the campuses collectively have been recommending more year over year — with 277 proposed for the 2020-21 academic year, compared with 220 five years ago or 178 a decade ago.

The University of Iowa for the next academic year is recommending 45 promotions with tenure, 23 promotions for faculty who already have tenure, and 79 promotions without tenure.

Iowa State and UNI, on the other hand, are recommending no promotions without tenure. All of Iowa State’s 98 promotion requests and UNI’s 32 promotion requests involve tenure or are for faculty who already have tenure.

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As for the gender breakdown of the campus’ recommendations, UI is proposing 79 promotions or tenure actions for men and 68 for women; Iowa State is evenly split at 49 recommendations for both men and women; and UNI is proposing 22 actions for women and nine for men.

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

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