Camping outside University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld’s office and planting yard signs in his lawn insisting “Iowa Needs Unions” has moved the needle for non-tenure-track faculty demanding better pay and working conditions.
Before dozens of the growing number of UI faculty without tenure or a path to get there parked outside Harreld’s office last week, he had declined to meet with the protesters, who had delivered to him in various forms a list of demands.
But as part of their agreement to leave the office, they secured a commitment to meet with the president. And that took place Wednesday morning in a room in the UI Department of Public Safety office.
Liz Weiss, an interdisciplinary studies lecturer who has been on campus five years, was among those allowed to attend. She said the choice of location was awkward, but once discussion ensued, “I think it was a productive meeting.”
Harreld and other administrators present — including Interim Provost Sue Curry, General Counsel Carroll Reasoner, Chief Human Resources Office Cheryl Reardon and UI Associate Provost for Faculty Kevin Kregel — agreed to participate over the next few weeks in work groups focused on human resources and collegiate policies, Weiss said.
The faculty present shared stories about how practices and policies have affected their lives — leaving them, for example, with a growing workload but shrinking compensation.
“I think we opened some eyes this morning,” Weiss said.
Although the university didn’t commit to making any changes, according to Weiss, the working groups will look at issues like benefits and parental leave, for example, or faculty definitions.
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“To me, these are really huge steps,” Weiss said. “I think we have a process through we can make genuine progress.”
The university’s non-tenure-track faculty numbers have been swelling in recent years. A recent Board of Regents report showed it now employs 1,754, up from 1,589 in the 2015-16 academic year. That number accounts for 54 percent of UI faculty, up from 48 percent three years ago.
Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa report smaller portions of non-tenure-track faculty.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty, meanwhile, are decreasing at UI, sliding from 1,564 in 2015-16 to 1,516 in the most recent year on record, according to the regents report.
University officials have pointed out that unlike ISU and UNI, it has hundreds of clinical faculty within its UI Hospitals and Clinics system that qualify as non-tenure-track. As of Oct. 1, 2017, the university reported 842 non-tenure-track clinical faculty.
Still, the shift in the UI faculty majority has non-tenure-track faculty working toward unionization — despite recent changes in Iowa law stripping public collective bargaining rights.
But big changes in compensation seem unlikely right now, as the UI just froze pay u for most non-unionized employees because of state funding cuts.