The number of tenured professors continues to decline at public universities in Iowa

University of Iowa non-tenured faculty and supporters cross Jefferson Street in 2018 as they march from the Pentacrest to the IU President’s Residence in Iowa City. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — After three attempts in four years to legislatively eliminate college tenure at Iowa’s public universities, lawmakers this year have proposed no such measure.

But that doesn’t mean tenure is necessarily booming at universities governed by the Iowa Board of Regents.

Next week, the Regents will receive their annual tenure report showing – once again – more declines among tenured and tenure-track professors and increases among those who do not lead to tenure.

The University of Iowa — which, unlike Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, runs a growing health care business with some “clinical” professors classified as nonpermanent — continues to report the smallest percentage of the total number of full professors, at 34 percent.

With 1,123 full professors this year, UI’s tally is 12% lower than its number of 1,277 full professors in 2010, when this group made up 46% of UI’s total faculty.

UI’s cohort of tenured faculty has been shrinking for years, as has its tenure-track faculty, which this year represents 10% of its total faculty.

The decline within this group has leveled off in recent years – dropping just one from last year to 324, although it remains 19% below the number of 402 holders unemployment insurance in 2010, when this group made up more than 14% of all UI professors. to count.

The Iowa Regents define tenure as an “employment status under which faculty members may enjoy enhanced aspects of job security in order to create and maintain an atmosphere conducive to the free exchange of ideas and research needed to educate Iowa students and advance knowledge in democracy.”

The board, in its annual report, is careful to point out that tenured professors can be fired if they fail to meet job expectations or obligations – or if their program is cut or in financial crisis. And obtaining tenure comes after a rigorous probationary period that typically lasts six years and involves internal and external peer reviews.

Although university officials and national organizations such as the American Association of University Teachers have emphasized the importance of tenure to protect academic freedom and allow institutions to compete for the best and brightest professors, some legislators of Iowa have expressed concern that tenure allows “bad” teachers to stay employed.

“In the real world, if you get it wrong, and you get it that bad, you get fired,” Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, said last year when he introduced a bill. on eliminating the tenure of an education sub-committee. . “You are canned. It will be difficult to find another job.

Iowa State Board of Regents Logo

Last year was the third year since 2018 that lawmakers have proposed a bill to eliminate tenure – and last year’s debate went further than in previous years due to controversies over freedom of expression swirling across all three campuses. But critics of the bills said even talking about removing the mandate hurts the state and campuses.

Not unique

UI in the 2015-2016 academic year saw non-tenure-track faculty become the majority – accounting for just over half of its faculty. This percentage has continued to grow year on year to reach 57% today, or 1,885 of its 3,332 teachers.

Non-tenured professors remain in the minority in Iowa State and UNI, which both report that 32% of their professors do not have tenure or are not in the process of obtaining it. Non-tenure numbers and percentages, however, are up this year for both campuses — which, like UI, have seen incumbent and tenure-track numbers drop from last year.

In 2010, the number of full professors at the UIS fell by 5% and the number of full professors fell by 22%. UNI has seen a 25% decline in its tenured faculty over this period, along with a 32% loss of those on tenure track.

These trends are not unique to Iowa — as tenure has been declining for decades on US campuses coast to coast, according to national higher education media and advocacy organizations.

Last year, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that in 1993-94, more than half – about 56% – of professors in institutions offering permanent positions were tenured. By 2018-19, that number had dropped to 45%.

Iowa is also not the only state discussing dropping the mandate. Missouri has pondered the legislation, and Georgia’s public university system changed its tenure rules in October to make it easier for tenured professors to terminate their tenure.

Iowa lawmakers haven’t raised the issue this session, beyond a legislative review committee’s demand for evidence “that empirically shows that tenure produces better outcomes for students and taxpayers in Iowa”.

The universities reacted collectively by pointing out, in part, several specific financial impacts:

  • In fiscal year 2020, Iowa universities received more than $628 million in competitive federal grants and scholarships, most of which resulted from the work of tenured and tenure-track faculty.
  • A 2018 external economic impact analysis showed that research spending by Iowa’s public universities—supported by federal and private grants and institutional support—had a net statewide impact of over $730 million and the equivalent of 9,682 jobs.
  • A 2020 economic development report showed that 176 patents were granted and 85 license or option agreements were signed that year – all based on research by university professors, reporting 10.3 million dollars to Iowa businesses.

“Without outside interests”

For Naomi Greyser, an associate UI professor of American Studies, English, and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, who was officially made tenure in 2016, earning the prestigious academic appointment n hasn’t been easy.

Between having a baby and working to become a starter, “I barely slept for about seven years.”

“Between working and writing and thinking and researching…and editing things and working hard, it was really hard,” she said. “It was really stressful.”

Although Greyser said she hasn’t experienced any denial of occupation, she knows people who have, “and it’s really difficult and emotional.”

Being a titular, for Greyser, is not a pass to do what she wants. This is not the promise of a job for life without responsibility. It’s about providing students with a world-class education via the freedom to ask the hard questions and feel free to pursue the difficult questions themselves.

“You can follow a line of thought as much as possible without outside interests interrupting or getting in your way,” she said.

According to Greyser, depriving Iowa’s public universities of the tool of tenure would have a devastating impact not only on faculty, but also on students and the state.

“It would become a college shell,” she said.

UI – in hopes of bolstering its top-tier tenured faculty – recently launched several new programs committing millions of dollars to recruitment and retention.

Looking ahead to next year, the regent universities are recommending 277 promotions or tenure actions combined, a 17% increase from last year’s 237. UI, in particular, aims to offer tenure promotion to 54 faculty, up from 35 last year.

The number of promotions that the UI recommends without tenure remains higher than those with tenure, at 96. But officials said some of those non-permanent promotions are tied to clinical track faculty associated with UI Health Care.

“The university remains committed to the importance of tenured and tenure-track faculty in advancing academic missions,” said UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck.

Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.

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