UI faculty group petitions to pool sick-leave dates into a communal bank

Faculty members in the College of Liberal Arts are petitioning for the university to create a sick day bank for employees to use when they need to take long-term sick leave due to illness.


Tate Hildyard

University of Iowa Rhetoric instructor Elena Carter poses for a portrait on Wednesday, March 13th, 2019. Elena is one of the faculty members of the University English Department campaigning for a sick day bank in response to the drastic medical condition of a member of the Rhetoric department.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

After a colleague in the Rhetoric Department was diagnosed with cancer during winter break, a group of faculty in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences has petitioned for a sick-leave bank for tenure- and nontenure-track faculty.

The group, Faculty Forward, was formed two years ago and met with administrators last summer to change a policy so faculty with a 50 percent course load could still get health benefits, said University of Iowa history Lecturer Michael Zmolek, a member of the group.

Faculty Forward member and rhetoric Lecturer Elena Carter spoke to the state Board of Regents during the public-comment portion of the meeting Feb. 28 to air the group’s requests.

“We’re asking to create a sick-leave bank with the university contribution of 800 minimum days accessible to any [liberal-arts college] faculty member, and then also have the option for other faculty to donate unused sick time to the bank if needed,” Carter said.

Faculty wanted to donate their sick days to the colleague diagnosed with cancer in order for him to make the 90-day time period before he could apply for long-term disability, but they were told by the UI that they weren’t able to do so, Carter said.

If someone is new to a department and hasn’t accrued enough sick-leave time to cover the gap between the illness or injury and when the person can apply for long-term disability, it can put the person in a difficult financial situation, Carter said.

The expense to the UI would be what it spends to help create the bank and what it would continue to pay faculty on sick leave, Zmolek said. There is a sick-leave bank in place at the University of Northern Iowa, he said.

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The bank would allow faculty with catastrophic illnesses or injuries to have the option to take sick leave without worrying about losing financial support, Zmolek said.

“So we specifically want to come to the aid of our colleague, but also, this affects all of us,” Zmolek said. “Because anyone of us could get such a diagnosis and be in exactly the same situation.”

The UI offers a program for faculty and staff to receive and donate vacation days for those who need to take leave for personal and family catastrophic illnesses or injuries, spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said in an email to The Daily Iowan.

The program allows faculty members who accrue vacation days to use them, Beck said. Faculty members who are not required to work over the summer and winter breaks do not accrue vacation time, she said. These faculty members who work for nine months instead of year-round — some tenure- and nontenure-track — have sick days.

“Similarly, adjunct faculty and visiting professors, whose positions are designed to be temporary, semester- or yearlong, appointments, do not accrue vacation time,” Beck said.

Beck said Faculty Forward had previously declared its intention to organize as a union on its Facebook page. Pursuant to Iowa Code, the regents are the sole representative of labor matters involving employee organizations and unions.

“We respect the right of this group to organize to become a union and will continue to ensure fair and consistent practices for all employees across campus no matter the circumstances,” she said.