Faculty Forward Iowa and UI agree to new benefits for non-tenure track faculty

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Members of Faculty Forward Iowa stage a quiet sit-in at UI President Bruce Harreld’s office on May 9, 2018. — photo by Jason Smith

Non-tenure track faculty at the University of Iowa will finally receive some of the same standard benefits as their tenured colleagues do, thanks to an agreement between the university administration and Faculty Forward Iowa (FFI).

“The new policy, which starts on Sept. 1, gives us some much-needed benefits,” said Faye Bartram, visiting assistant professor of history and a member of FFI. “Health insurance, dental insurance, dependent coverage, sick leave accruement and retirement benefits.”

FFI represents members of UI’s non-tenure track faculty who are seeking better working conditions. Non-tenure track faculty teach more than half the classes UI undergraduates take, and typically have heavy workloads with much lower salaries than tenured factory, little job security and few opportunities for career advancement.

Prior to the deal announced on Tuesday, the non-tenure track faculty also received very few benefits. Bartram has had first-hand experience with problems caused by a lack of basic benefits.

“During the last academic year I couldn’t afford health insurance,” Bartram, who has taught at the university since 2017, said. “That led to me putting off seeing a doctor, which eventually led to an emergency room visit.”

“I had to get a part-time job over the summer to pay for the emergency room visit,” she added. “Now others won’t have to worry about that happening.”

Faculty Forward Iowa hung banners publicizing their demands at the Old Capitol Mall on May 1. — photo by Zak Neumann

FFI, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, launched its campaign to improve working conditions for non-tenure track UI faculty in April, with a march from the Pentacrest to UI President Bruce Harreld’s office. After Harreld refused to meet with FFI members, the group staged another march, which ended with a rally in front of the president’s official residence. That was followed by a sit-in at the president’s office in May.

The sit-in ended with an agreement that university officials, including Harreld, would meet with representatives of FFI. That meeting on May 16 led to the formation of working groups, composed of members of the administration and FFI members, to address the concerns of the non-tenured faculty.

“We’d meet about every two weeks, and have hour-long discussions,” Bartram, who was part of the human resources working group, explained. “They were really collaborative working with us. [FFI would] propose what we’d like to see, then we’d all work together to do research to see what is allowed given Iowa state law, what current policies are and what the possibilities are.”

The groups are still meeting to address other outstanding issues such as hiring practices, transparency and the size of the workloads of non-tenure track faculty.

“We’re still working to get a fairer situation at the university,” Bartram said. “But based on the experience I’ve had so far with the HR working group, and working with my faculty colleagues, I have a lot of hope for the future.”

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