Update: This story has been updated since it was first published with information on the outcome of the sit-in protest.
On Wednesday, members of the University of Iowa’s non-tenure track faculty staged a sit-in at UI President Bruce Harreld’s office. It was not the sort of raucous sit-in familiar from university protests in the 1960s. Instead, members of Faculty Forward Iowa sat quietly in the outer office, sharing pizza and doing their jobs as they waited. They were waiting to meet with Harreld to discuss their demands for better working conditions for all non-tenure track faculty.
“We’ve been here since 10 a.m.,” Elizabeth Weiss, a lecturer in UI’s Frank N. Magid Center for Undergraduate Writing and a member of Faculty Forward Iowa, told Little Village in an interview early Wednesday afternoon. “We were told [Harreld] is not here, and if he comes in he’ll be too busy to meet with us.”
The dozen or so members of Faculty Forward Iowa in the office were determined to wait until Harreld would speak with them, Weiss said. They would wait all afternoon, and if he wouldn’t meet with him, they’ll keep coming back until he does, she said.
This wasn’t the first time Faculty Forward Iowa has tried to meet with Harreld. Last month, after a rally on the Pentacrest, they marched to Harreld’s to present a letter and a petition demanding better working conditions. Harreld did not meet with them and did not respond to their petition. Last week, they marched from the Pentacrest to Harreld’s official home on the UI campus to present a copy of their demands. No one answered when they knocked on the door, and Harreld did not respond to a letter aped to the front door explaining Faculty Forward Iowa’s position.
“We are part of a nationwide movement of contingent faculty fighting for better job security, transparency, improved support, compensation and benefits, and inclusion in academic communities,” read the letter delivered during Faculty Forward Iowa’s first march to Harreld’s office on April 18.
Faculty Forward Iowa is the UI chapter of Faculty Forward, a national labor group that is part of the Service Employees International Union. The recently organized chapter isn’t currently recognized by the university as a bargaining unit for employees.
Wednesday’s sit-in was “in response to [Harreld’s] continued failure to meet with us,” said Brooke Larson, visiting assistant professor in the Linguistics Department. Non-tenure track faculty like Larson and Weiss teach more than half the classes UI undergraduates take, and typically have heavy workloads, with much lower salaries than tenured factory, few benefits, little job security and few opportunities for career advancement.
“Harreld has made public statements about our protests, but he hasn’t spoken to us directly,” Larson said.
“We have had conversations with administrators,” Weiss said. “After our first big rally when we first presented our demands, we met with Kevin Kregel [Associate Provost for Faculty] and a few others, and in that meeting they communicated to us that they weren’t in a position to make commitments, to make decisions, and we needed to speak with Bruce Harreld and some others.”
“We’ve asked for a meeting with the people who can make these decisions and we’ve gotten the runaround,” Weiss added. “It’s up to them to schedule the meeting, to get the right people in the room. We’ve made our demands very clear. We’ve asked for specific, concrete commitments from the university. We’re not interested in a committee, we’re not interested in [their] tactics of delay and passing the buck.”
In an interview last week with The Daily Iowan, Harreld was asked about Faculty Forward Iowa and the demands of UI’s non-tenure track faculty.
I read that their compensation is way too low and this, that and the other — it’d be really useful to get some data about that, and we benchmark against, as many of you are sick of listening to, but we benchmark against 10 other institutions and we know who they are, we know what their faculty salaries are, we know what their benefit packages are, we know where we are in terms of faculty salaries. If we have a legitimate issue here in terms of gaps in non-tenure track faculty, let’s get the data relative to those peer institutions, let’s figure out what the gaps are, and we’ll go to work on it.
Greater transparency about wages and other issues, including getting UI to disclose exactly how many non-tenure track employees it has, are part of Faculty Forward Iowa’s demands. And although that may seem like a good starting place for Faculty Forward Iowa and Harreld to start talking, Harreld also told the DI he won’t meet the group.
And then finally, if it appears quite likely that they’re thinking about organizing — which is fine, they have the right to do that — but the last thing I can do, and I will not meet with them if that’s the case, because I don’t want to get accused of tampering in one way or the other.
In other words, Harreld claims he can’t meet with Faculty Forward Iowa until the group stops trying to represent the demands of UI’s non-tenured faculty.
In response to questions from Little Village following Faculty Forward Iowa’s first rally, a spokesperson for UI”s administration said they would not comment on the group, because it was university policy to speak directly with groups attempting to negotiate with the administration.
As for Faculty Forward Iowa, Weiss said they will continue to try to speak directly with Harreld.
“We’re not going away. We are committed, there are a lot of us,” she said. “We are essential to this university and we are not going away or shutting up until our demands are satisfied.”
The sit-in continued through the afternoon.
“At 5 p.m. we were told the office is closing and we’d have to leave,” Meaghan Harding, an English as a Second Language lecturer, told Little Village in an interview on Wednesday night. “We thanked them for letting us know, but told them we declined to leave.”
Then someone called the police.
“That didn’t really amount to anything,” Harding said. After speaking to the protesters, the campus police officers left the office, and waited in the hallway.
According to Harding, the members of Faculty Forward Iowa went back to what they had been doing, sitting quietly and working.
“I actually got quite a bit of grading done today,” she said.
Around 6 p.m., Peter Matthes, senior advisor to President Harreld and vice president for external relations, and Laura McLeran, another senior advisor to Harreld and the assistant vice president of external relations, met with the protesters.
Following a lengthy discussion, Matthes and McLeran agreed in writing to schedule a meeting between representatives of Faculty Forward Iowa and university officials who can address the group’s demands. One of those officials will be Bruce Harreld.
Before committing to include Harreld, Matthes and McLeran checked with UI’s general counsel to make sure that despite what Harreld told the DI, the president could attend the meeting.
“So, now we’ve established that there isn’t any legitimate legal reason that President Harreld can’t meet with us,” Harding said.
Matthes and McLeran also agreed that the upcoming meeting would be more than just another “listening session,” Harding explained.
“They agreed to a meeting to begin taking action,” she said. “We’re looking forward to holding [university officials] accountable and making progress on our demands.”