Fixed-term faculty protest catastrophic-leave policy outside UI Faculty Senate meeting

University of Iowa Faculty Forward rallied outside the Old Capitol where the Faculty Senate convened Tuesday to protest the catastrophic-leave policy change that the group says does not accommodate all faculty and staff.


Wyatt Dlouhy

Associate Professor of Instruction for the Rhetoric Department Megan Knight reads a statement during a protest for sick leave time at the Old Capitol Building on Tuesday, October 29, 2019. Faculty Forward would like to establish a sick leave bank for non-tenure track faculty. The University of Iowa’s Catastrophic Leave policy covers two percent of faculty members in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, most of the uncovered faculty are non-tenure track.

Kinsey Phipps and Katie Ann McCarver

“What do we want? Sick leave. When do we want it? Now. If we don’t get it? Shut it down.”

Members of Service Employees International Union Faculty Forward, a grassroots effort by nontenure-track faculty at the University of Iowa, chanted on the steps of the Old Capitol on Tuesday to protest the UI’s current catastrophic-leave policy.

Several faculty and staff members pushed for the implementation of a sick-leave bank in the spring following UI rhetoric and English lecturer Steve McNutt’s diagnosis with stage-four cancer.

McNutt was only tenured for two of the many years he worked at the UI — and did not qualify for enough sick leave to account for his time in treatment by the time he died in July, said UI lecturer Anne Sand, one of McNutt’s colleagues.

During its protest on the Pentacrest, the group read a letter McNutt wrote in anticipation of these issues before his death and also read the writings of another affected faculty member.

“The thing I want to stress is creating the sick-leave bank costs the university hardly anything. It’s not hard to implement,” Sand said. “It would make a huge difference in the lives of faculty in the [College of Liberal Arts and Sciences].”

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, Faculty Senate unanimously passed a new catastrophic-leave policy in September, allowing nonvacation-accruing faculty and staff with 50 percent time or greater appointments to receive donated leave time from vacation-accruing faculty members.

UI staff or faculty members can then convert the donated vacation time to paid sick leave in the event of catastrophic illness or injury.

RELATED: UI Faculty Senate expands catastrophic leave donation policy to include more faculty members

The problem with this new policy, Sand said, is that most faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences do not qualify for vacation time. The small portion of faculty who do meet the criteria cannot make up for the needs of the rest of the college’s staff and faculty, Sand said.

“I’m a rhetoric instructor. It’s my job to make sure my students are not only prepared for college, but prepared for citizenship,” Sand said. “It’s my job to teach them that facts without context are meaningless, that beliefs without evidence are empty, and that debate without honesty is hollow.”

Faculty Senate President Sandy Daack-Hirsch commented on the catastrophic-leave policy at the organization’s meeting Tuesday without acknowledging the protests taking place outside the Old Capitol Senate Chamber.

Daack-Hirsch said Faculty Senate widened the scope of eligibility to receive donated hours by passing the new sick-leave policy in September. She added that this first step that allows the UI to meet people’s needs while Faculty Senate works out the more complex parts of the equation.

“I feel very strongly about the [catastrophic-leave] donation policy,” Daack-Hirsch said. “I think this is an important issue for faculty on campus.”

The policy change received approval from UI President Bruce Harreld, she said, and will go on the state Board of Regents’ docket at its November meeting.

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

“Senior administration has been very supportive as well, so we do think that we can move ahead with at least some of these goals,” UI Faculty Senate Past President Russ Ganim said.

The next step, Daack-Hirsch said, is to examine what exactly could be donated — including sick time and the unused vacation time of vacation-accruing faculty.

“I’m actually really very proud of the work that the community has done,” Daack-Hirsch said. “We have a lot of positive momentum going with [Human Resources and] with the Board of Regents.”