‘We’re spread too thin’: UI non-tenure track faculty demand better working conditions

Marchers arrive at the office of UI President Bruce Harreld to deliver a letter and petition from Iowa Faculty Forward, April 18, 2018. — photo by Jason Smith

Despite freezing temperatures and threatening skies, approximately 60 people gathered on the University of Iowa’s Pentacrest on Wednesday afternoon to show support for members of the university’s non-tenure track faculty who are demanding better working conditions. Following a 20-minute rally, the crowd marched to UI President Bruce Harreld’s office to deliver a letter explaining their demands and a petition with almost 200 signatures supporting their position.

The rally was organized by Iowa Faculty Forward. “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,” the letter delivered to Harreld stated.

Iowa Faculty Forward 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.

“We want to give the university a chance to recognize and understand the importance of non-tenure track faculty as a group, and to show support by coming to the table to talk to us about the things that we really need to make our lives stable and less critically stressful than they are now,” Annie Sand, a lecturer in the Rhetoric Department, explained in an interview on Tuesday. “These are things we need to be the best employees we can be, and to provide the best educational experience for our students.”

Annie Sand address the Iowa Faculty Forward rally on the UI Pentacrest, April 18, 2018. — photo by Jason Smith

Non-tenure track faculty teach more than half the classes UI undergraduates take, and typically face a grueling workload.

“Last fall I taught three semester-length courses and two additional six-week courses, and then this spring I’m teaching two semester-length courses and two additional six-week courses,” Elizabeth Weiss, a lecturer in UI’s Frank N. Magid Center for Undergraduate Writing and a member of Iowa Faculty Forward, told Little Village before the rally. In addition to the teaching those courses, Weiss also serves as the faculty mentor for three undergraduates working on major projects.

“It’s really gratifying to be able to work closely with students, but it’s been a really intensive workload. And according to the university, it only counts as 50 percent of my appointment, so my salary for the year is only $27,500. For me doing this as a 50-percent appointment, I can barely keep my head above water,” Weiss said. “It’s hard to wrap my head around how anyone could handle twice this load, so it would count as a full appointment.”

“And I have it better than a lot of my non-tenure track colleagues. I have health insurance, a lot of my non-tenure track colleagues don’t.”

“We’re spread too thin to give our students the attention they deserve, and the attention we want to give them,” Weiss said. “I think anyone invested in the long term health of this university in particular, or higher education in general, has to address the issues that we’re raising. The way things are is not sustainable.”

She added, “The folks working on this campaign are as committed and passionate about the University of Iowa as anyone I’ve met.”

Harreld wasn’t in his office when the marchers arrived to deliver the letter and petition.

A spokesperson for UI”s administration declined to comment, when contacted by Little Village for a statement on Iowa Faculty Forward’s petition.

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