Guest Opinion: Faculty group calls for collaboration to make jobs secure

Members of Faculty Forward respond to the new College of Liberal Arts & Sciences hiring guidelines for some fixed-term faculty.

This past summer, we four members of Faculty Forward Iowa met with College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Dean Joe Kearney and Associate Dean Raúl Curto to try to find solutions to pressing problems affecting the ever-increasing number of nontenure-track faculty in the college.   

The Faculty Forward’s direct action in the spring of 2018 got us to the Liberal Arts office: a march to Jessup Hall and the President’s Residence with a demand letter and a finals week “grade-in” in the president’s office won us a summit-style meeting with him and high-level administrators.

Out of that summit came three working groups of Faculty Forward members and administrators that met over the summer to address issues put forward in our demand letter. These included the salary and workloads of nontenure-track faculty (we often teach twice as much as tenured and tenure-track faculty for two-thirds of what they’re paid); unequal access to health and retirement benefits; limited opportunities to participate in shared governance or be protected by university grievance procedures; few professional-development opportunities; and contracts built on the mistaken belief that our research, scholarship, and creative practice are not necessary to our teaching.

Those discussions happily led to the administration’s decision to give visiting faculty with one-year teaching appointments of 50 percent full health and retirement benefits. But soon after this welcome announcement, and just as members of our working group were starting to advocate for a path toward job security for Liberal Arts adjuncts and VAPs, the Liberal Arts deans suddenly terminated our future meetings.  Then at the beginning of this semester, Kearney announced a new policy that would affect these “fixed term” faculty members: adjuncts would be limited to one class per semester and VAPs to appointments of no more than three years.

Recently, Professor Stephen Warren, who was a welcome member our summer meetings with the deans and is this year’s Chair of Faculty Assembly, invited Faculty Forward to speak to the new VAP/adjunct policy. Here’s what we said at the Oct. 17 meeting:

“We are here today to represent the nearly 300 nontenure-track faculty who, since last spring, have signed our public letter and committed to being part of our campaign to improve conditions for such faculty at Iowa. 

Our goal has been and still is to pull more faculty into good jobs that pay full benefits and offer job security. While we see the value of returning to a traditional sense of what an adjunct should be and are in favor of preventing the misuse of visiting appointments, the new policy announced by Kearney leaves us deeply concerned about the livelihoods of current adjuncts and VAPs who, year after year, have been contributing essential teaching and service to their departments.

For our long-term adjunct and “visiting” colleagues, we want to see the creation of Lecturer positions in the Instructional Track. But we’re concerned that the announced policy does nothing to encourage these positive outcomes for nontenure-track faculty, while making their lives and jobs all the more precarious.

Let’s be clear: This policy has left many of our “fixed term” colleagues worried, angry and frightened. And it’s not just these nontenure-track faculty who will be harmed by this change: Our students are harmed when experienced instructors are forced out; departments are harmed when they are destabilized by unnecessary turnover and forced to engage repeatedly in expensive, time-consuming hiring processes; and the university is harmed when shared governance is further eroded.”

We asked Faculty Assembly to issue a statement calling on the administration to address the concerns we’ve raised about the new VAP/adjunct policy. We asked them to reopen and revise the Liberal Arts Instructional Track policy that affects the work lives of hundreds of lecturers in the College. We encouraged them to invite nontenure-track faculty into shared governance and to include them in decision-making that affects the way we work and teach.

We believe that our shared university citizenship and commitment can move us all toward a better future. Let’s work together across the college to push for changes to actually make better, secure jobs a reality.

Mary Ann Rasmussen, associate professor of Instruction, Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies

Megan Knight, associate professor of Instruction, Rhetoric

Elizabeth Weiss, lecturer, Magid Center for Undergraduate Writing

Packy Moran, lecturer, Sport and Recreation Management