Regents approve catastrophic-leave policy amid debate from Faculty Senate, Faculty Forward

The state Board of Regents approved changes to its catastrophic-leave policy Thursday, which will allow for non-vacation-accruing faculty and staff to receive donated sick-leave time.


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.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Editor

CEDAR FALLS — The state Board of Regents approved changes to its policy manual on Thursday to expand the eligibility requirements for receiving catastrophic-leave donations to include faculty and staff who do not accrue vacation.

According to regents’ documents, the new policy expands eligibility for catastrophic-leave donations to include all vacation and sick-leave, accruing faculty and staff members with a 50 percent or greater regular appointment. The policy also permits non-vacation-accruing faculty and staff to receive donated sick-leave during catastrophic illness or injury.

A catastrophic illness or injury is defined as a medical condition that a health-care provider has certified is likely to result in a loss of 30 or more work days, according to those same documents. The new catastrophic-leave policy will go into effect at regents institutions Jan. 1.

“The university is supportive of the proposal approved by the Board of Regents at today’s meeting and looks forward to working with shared governance to implement this change and other enhancements to the university’s policies and procedures,” said University of Iowa Chief Human Resources Officer and Associate Vice President Cheryl Reardon.

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

The revised policy includes a list of circumstances that determine when faculty and staff can accrue catastrophic leave, including whether or not the eligible employee has satisfied the waiting period for long-term disability benefits, as in maternity or medical recovery.

The updated policy also stipulates that eligible employees can only receive contributed sick leave if all other sick or vacation leave available to them is exhausted, and they are not already receiving supplemental payments for long-term disability.

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the UI Faculty Senate unanimously passed the changes to catastrophic-leave policy in September.

Faculty members began advocating for a more inclusive policy last academic year, citing the UI’s lack of a sick-leave bank and instead requiring individuals to request and receive donations directly.

“The Faculty Senate is deeply committed to working toward changes in the catastrophic leave donation policy,” said President Sandra Daack-Hirsch in an email to the DI. “I am particularly pleased with the positive momentum we have created toward change.”

Daack-Hirsch said in a statement that the policy change by the regents is step one of a multi-step process.

“With this change, Faculty Senate will now work with colleagues in human resources to improve the processes by which employees donate and request time,” she said.

Service Employees International Union Faculty Forward member and UI lecturer Anne Sand said the policy approved by the regents on Thursday is not necessarily a problem, but it is not a permanent solution either.

Sand was among a group of Faculty Forward protesters outside the Oct. 29 Faculty Senate meeting. She said Thursday that the organization would like for faculty to not only have the option to receive donated vacation days but also donate sick leave to one another and have a sick-leave bank.

The new policy doesn’t fix anything short-term, she added, because it asks a small percentage of people to donate vacation days to several hundred people. There’s simply not enough to go around, Sand said.

RELATED: UI faculty catastrophic-leave policy up for regents’ consideration

The hope that the UI would adopt a more effective policy than what the regents approved quieted the frustration that’s been driving the Faculty Forward movement, Sand said. But now that they know the university and the regents are uninterested in actually fixing the problem, she said, they are motivated to continue advocating on behalf of fixed-term faculty.

“Basically what we want is a catastrophic-leave policy that allows instructors to focus on healing when they need it,” Sand said. “Our ideal outcome would be that the Board of Regents recognizes that the policy that they’ve passed is really ineffective.”