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UI Non-Tenure Track Professors Demand Better Pay, Representation

This story was updated on 4/19.

Non-tenure track faculty at the University of Iowa are demanding higher pay, better benefits and more representation. Around sixty non-tenure track professors and supporters braved the weather to deliver their demands to campus administrators Wednesday.

Chants of "stagnant wages have got to go" and "essential, not contingent" echoed across the University of Iowa's Pentacrest. There were instructors with twenty years of experience and others just starting out, standing together in the freezing rain and commiserating over the idea that they're paid roughly the same wages.

“When I take the salary I earn now and enter it into a calculator for inflation, I make exactly now what I made when I began this job 20 years ago," said associate professor Megan Knight.

Associate professors like Knight, along with lecturers, adjuncts, and visiting instructors make up nearly half the faculty at UI. And they teach nearly half the credit hours. Knight says her responsibilities are comparable to her higher ranking colleagues. But she says she's just not getting adequately compensated for it.

“I have a very heavy service load. I conduct research. I do creative work. And all of those things are things I’m doing on top of twice the teaching load my tenure-track faculty colleagues have,” Knight said.

"I am not particularly interested in being lectured to about the budget from administrators who make in a month what I make in a year." - UI Lecturer Liz Weiss

Knight says the current university governance structure doesn't allow non-tenure track professors to effectively advocate for themselves, making it difficult to get the yearly pay raises, health insurance coverage, retirement benefits and parental leave they want.

“With a lot of my non-tenure track faculty colleagues, they don’t even have a vote, say, in decisions made at their own departmental or program level," Knight said. "They literally are not invited to faculty meetings. Or can go to faculty meetings but are not allowed to vote."

Ultimately the group plans to unionize, despite lawmakers' sweeping changes to collective bargaining in the state. And organizers acknowledge they're demanding higher pay and expanded benefits at a time when the state's university system is facing a nearly $11 million loss, due to midyear budget cuts by the state legislature. But lecturer Liz Weiss, who makes $27,500 a year, says administrators would do well to re-examine income disparities on campus. 

"I am not particularly interested in being lectured to about the budget from administrators who make in a month what I make in a year," she said to a cheering crowd. 

According to UI data, some top-paid professors and administrators on campus make upwards of $800,000 a year.

The University of Iowa relies on non-tenure track instructors to a greater degree than the state's other public schools. According to the most recent Board of Regents report, there are 1,370 tenure and tenure track professors at the university, and 1,257 non-tenure track professors. That percentage is markedly higher than either Iowa State University or the University of Northern Iowa.

During the fall 2016 semester, non-tenure track faculty at UI taught 47 percent of the total undergraduate course hours, more than any other instructor group.

University of Iowa spokeswoman Jeneane Beck says the UI's total number of non-tenure track instructors includes those who teach at the medical school, which neither UNI nor ISU has, increasing UI's percentage.

"If you remove our clinical track faculty (largely medical) from the total, our “non-tenure-track” faculty numbers are comparable to those of ISU," Beck said in an email.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter