IOWA CITY — Despite escalating odds against them, including a recent stripping of Iowa’s collective bargaining laws and a June Supreme Court ruling against unions, organized University of Iowa non-tenure-track faculty are celebrating a victory this week.
After months of protests, rallies and — eventually — meetings with UI administrators, including President Bruce Harreld, visiting faculty have won expanded benefits in the form of health insurance, dependent coverage, retirement and sick leave.
“This shows us that we are an important part of university,” Faye Bartram, a UI visiting assistant professor in the history department, told The Gazette.
Her colleagues, Bartram said, have seen their importance grow over the years — as non-tenure-track faculty now make up more than 54 percent of all UI faculty, up from 48 percent three years ago. That amounts to 1,754 non-tenure-track faculty, compared with about 1,181 tenured and 335 tenure-track faculty.
Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa report smaller numbers and portions of non-tenure employees. And UI officials point out that, unlike ISU and UNI, many at their institution are clinical faculty working at the UI Hospitals and Clinics.
Still, those in the classroom take on a significant chunk of the campus’ student instruction, as tenured and tenure-track faculty have more research responsibilities. And many without tenure or a path to receive it report feeling like second-class citizens — as they demonstrated through a 10-plus-hour sit-in outside the president’s office in May, followed by a march to the presidential residence.
“This is a fundamentally important policy change that will make a positive difference in the lives of visiting faculty, like me,” Bartram said of this week’s news.
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Changes to the university’s visiting faculty policy, announced to collegiate deans Wednesday to take effect Sept. 1, will make visiting faculty holding 50-percent or greater appointments for one academic year or longer eligible for the same UI benefits as regular, non-temporary, employees.
According to the message from Cheryl Reardon, associate vice president and chief human resources officer, and Kevin Kregel, associate provost for faculty, benefits include health and dental, life, and disability insurance; retirement programs; and sick leave accrual.
“This change is being made as a result of multiple discussions between UI administration and fixed-term faculty representatives over the past several months,” according to the message.
The announcement comes amid shifts across higher education to more reliance on non-tenure-track employees and as universities — including those in Iowa — face mounting financial pressure. State funding cuts have reduced general education support for Iowa’s three public universities by more than $40 million since the start of the 2017 budget year.
In response, the Board of Regents raised tuition and said it plans to continue doing so in the coming years. University of Iowa has imposed a moratorium on new campus construction through September, nixed some non-need-based scholarship programs, closed some centers, and delayed faculty raises until January.
But UI, ISU, and UNI also have stressed the importance of improving faculty pay in an effort to retain and attract the best and brightest thinkers — all with the goal of producing a top-quality academic experience and environment.
Bartram said she believes the non-tenure-track changes support those ends.
“I am glad that we were able to work with the administration to improve the well-being of university faculty and their families so that we can have the stability and peace of mind we need to focus on our students and pedagogical methodology,” said Bartram, who over the past year experienced months of chronic pain.
“Ultimately, the issue was resolved after just one trip to the emergency room, which cost me $2,000 out of pocket without insurance,” she said. “If I had had health insurance, as I would under the new policy, I could have simply gone to the doctor when the problem first arose.”
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Starting at UI as a graduate student in 2008, Bartram said she achieved professor status last year but continues to work on a year-by-year contract basis. She’d love tenure.
“But it’s a very very hard post to land these days,” she said. “The system seems to be changing and preferring the non-tenure track a teaching staff, because it’s cheaper to do so.”
UI officials didn’t answer questions from The Gazette on Friday about how much the changes will cost the institution or how many employees will be affected. Bartram said 64 within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will have the new benefit eligibility.
And advocates for the group said they’re not done organizing and pushing for more fair treatment — despite “national and local attacks on unions.” This week’s news represents a “major victory for public sector workers in Iowa,” according to the non-tenure-track group, which has been prevented from forming a union through the traditional process “because of a controversial state law.”
Instead, they’ve become “associate members” of the Service Employees International Union, which locally represents thousands of professional and scientific UI Health Care workers. On a national level, non-tenure-track faculty like those in Iowa have organized on campuses including University of Chicago and Loyola University.
Bartram said she’d next like the UI group to push for improved transparency in the hiring process, more contract stability, more manageable workloads, and parental leave rights.
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