End of AAU membership discussed at Faculty Senate

Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert spoke at the faculty senate meeting Tuesday afternoon during the last meeting of the spring 2022 semester.

Jack Mcclellan

Faculty Senate discussed the conclusion of Iowa State’s membership with the Association of American Universities during their meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Early in the meeting, David Peterson, professor of political science, suggested that a change be made to the agenda to allow more time for questions for Vice President and Provost, Jonathan Wickert. The motion passed with strong support from the senate.

The senate quickly ran through the consent agenda and special orders before Wickert took the podium to present the annual report on faculty advancement.

In the report, Wickert outlined the policies regarding tenure and faculty advancement as well as the actual trends the university is seeing in both term and non-term faculty members.

“And so, I think one of the things we’ve worked on over the years is to provide that career ladder for faculty, not just from assistant to associate but also from associate people and we’re seeing that for our term faculty colleagues as well,” Wickert said.

After the faculty advancement report, Wickert moved on to his remarks and announcements, as requested by the senate. He began by addressing Iowa State’s decision to end its membership with the AAU, citing much of the information included in the Inside Iowa State news release.

“So the decision was really made around that fact, that the AAU has membership criteria that placed great weight on that portion of federal research funding,” Wickert said. “And the federal research funding that comes in through USDA or research funding that comes in through business and industry is not given the same weighting factor, so to speak, in the AAU’s evaluation as funding from the NIH. We do very well many of you could very well bringing in business and industry funding, but it’s not what they would call a tier-one metric.”

Several faculty senators lined by the microphones to address Wickert with their thoughts and concerns on the decision, one of which was K.L. “Kenny” Cook, an English professor, who raised concerns about the level at which the decision took place.

“I was glad to hear that you talked to the President of the Faculty Senate and that President-Elect, but I don’t think you talked to the executive board,” Cook said. “It made me, and I know many of my colleagues, worry about sharing governance and how much we’re involved in these discussions and decisions beforehand.”

Wickert explained that, as with any significant announcement, there was some level of concern that word of the decision would get out. To help keep the word from getting out, administrators made sure to keep a tight timeline around the announcement.

Peterson, who originally moved that the remarks would be moved up in the agenda, also shared his thoughts on the decision, criticizing Iowa State’s “stonewalling” of journalists trying to understand the decision.

“You know, there’s a clear sense and more than a few rumors that the decision to leave the AAU was motivated by a sense that we were inevitably going to be asked to leave…” Peterson said. “I want to know if we were told that our membership was at risk, or if our membership was being reconsidered and for how long that’s been in place.”

Wickert assured the senate that the decision to leave the AAU was made by Iowa State administrators, not based on concern of being kicked from the organization.

He also pointed out that Iowa State will not undergo any serious changes as a result of the decision, nor is the decision any indicator that Iowa State is worse off than it has been in the past.

“We’re the same university we were a month ago,” Wickert said. “We’re the same university we were a year ago. We’re the same great university we were 100 years ago. And we’re going to be the same way tomorrow and we’re going to be the same way a month a year in 10 years and 100 years from now.”

According to Wickert, Iowa State’s broad mission as a land grant university supersedes its status as a research institution. Prioritizing strong undergraduate education, affordability and outreach allow Iowa State to serve the surrounding communities and the world.

“So this is really a statement that we know who we are, we’re confident who we are,” Wickert said. “And we’re not going to distort the university or we’re not going to chase metrics of any one external organization.”

While tensions surrounding the AAU decision were high at the meeting, all comments and remarks seemed to satisfy the senate’s concern, marked by a round of applause at the end of Wickert’s statements.

The senate meeting also included the passing of the gavel, from Andrea Wheeler, the previous president, to Jon Perkins. The senate also acknowledged the 13 retiring faculty senators and seated the new senators.

The senate also approved several agenda items ranging from the university’s incomplete work policy to the inclusion of innovation and entrepreneurship in faculty review. The senate also approved a new Bachelor’s in Computer Science program during the first reading and heard the first reading of a motion to change the policies regarding deficiencies in transfer students’ transcripts.