Education

University of Iowa council for women airs concerns about disproportionate layoffs

'Disproportionate firing of women of color underscores your college's lack of commitment to retaining faculty of color'

A sign in support of University of Iowa health care workers is seen in front of the Old Capitol Museum in Iowa City on F
A sign in support of University of Iowa health care workers is seen in front of the Old Capitol Museum in Iowa City on Friday, April 3, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa’s own Council on the Status of Women is airing concerns over the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ commitment to diversity after learning 12 of its 15 layoffs were women — including three women of color, two first-generation college students and at least two single mothers.

In a recent letter to the college’s Dean Steve Goddard, the council’s leadership raised a string of questions pertinent to its mission of ensuring “an environment that supports the rights of all women.”

“How is (the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) showing a commitment to diversity?” the letter asked. “How does CLAS intend to meet the goals of the (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) Action Plan while taking actions to severely decrease representation among its faculty?

“How will CLAS show young women and (underrepresented minority) students that they are a valuable part of the university while taking away their opportunities for mentorship?”

Goddard responded by vowing to bolster his college’s diversity and inclusion practices in future hires of tenure-track faculty — a group his administrative team wants to rely on more heavily as it opts not to renew the contracts of non-tenure-track lecturers amid COVID-19-related budget cuts.

And he said state law prevented the college’s executives from considering race, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity in deciding whom to cut this summer.

“When decisions had to be made between renewing one lecturer and not renewing another, prior annual evaluations were considered,” Goddard wrote in response to the council’s letter.

He noted the college had 52 of 205 lecturer positions up for renewal.

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“Fifteen were selected for nonrenewal this year,” he wrote. “We anticipate the need to repeat this process in each of the next two years, primarily so as not to disadvantage those who were up for renewal this year but also because of budget cuts.”

All the university’s colleges and departments are looking for cuts as the campus projects coronavirus-related losses topping $76 million through August, with the pandemic continuing to rage.

Those COVID-19 losses paired with projected enrollment drops and state funding cuts have administrators looking at salary cuts, furloughs, foregone raises, layoffs and curtailed programming — among many options.

Being the university’s largest, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is bracing for a bigger impact than some — with Goddard earlier this month projecting an expected 10 percent to 15 percent drop in students this fall from last. In response to those “huge” losses, Goddard has rolled out three tiers of potential cuts — with first-tier cuts certain, including the 15 eliminated lecturers.

If all three tiers were imposed, the college would save $25 million, according to Goddard.

In his response to the UI Council on the Status of Women, Goddard on Thursday said timing of his realizing the need to cut instructors “didn’t allow us to provide much advance notice to those affected.”

“I am story that this occurred,” he said, but added, “Temporary reductions, such as salary reductions or furloughs, are not sufficient to address the three-to-five-year budget cuts we are facing.”

Concerns raised by leaders with the UI women’s council — including Chairwoman Hannah Schultz — focused primarily on who was let go, with the letter noting more than half the campus’ non-tenure-track faculty are women and only about one-third of tenure-track faculty are women.

As for the college cuts, according to the council, 80 percent were women.

“We know 80 percent of CLAS faculty are not women,” they wrote. “Women should not represent 80 percent of layoffs.”

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The council also highlighted layoffs in the rhetoric department — which its executive officer said lost some of its best and brightest lecturers — and noted two of five were women of color.

“It is unlikely that 40 percent of the faculty are women of color,” according to the letter. “This disproportionate firing of women of color underscores your college’s lack of commitment to retaining faculty of color.”

The actions rebuff the university’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion action plan, the council members wrote, pointing specifically toward its goal to recruit, retain and advance diverse faculty, staff, and students.

The letter also aired grievances about reports some lecturers are being asked to teach more classes without more pay come fall, and it demanded assurance those full-time faculty who are losing their jobs won’t be replaced by adjunct faculty and graduate students “who aren’t provided the same benefits and protections as full-time faculty.”

Goddard said he and his team are planning to spend the next few months identifying how many instructional and tenure-track faculty each department should have, while also upping the ratio of tenured faculty to instructional-track faculty.

“My goal is to reduce to the greatest extent possible our reliance on adjuncts and visiting assistant professors,” Goddard wrote.

Once they have those numbers, he said, the college will follow its diversity plan in recruiting and hiring a “more diverse faculty.” And Goddard noted the college is finalizing its 2020-21 diversity, equity and inclusion action plan now.

The plan will come out in August “after substantial vetting within our community.” In the meantime, though, he vowed issues of diversity were considered “as we faced the difficult decisions that we had to make to address the deficit in the college stemming from the pandemic and budget cuts.”

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

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