Faculty Senate approves three out of four diversity requirements

The Faculty Senate conducting business Nov. 9 in the Sun Room at the Memorial Union. 

Katherine Kealey

The Iowa State Faculty Senate voted against rescinding an amendment made by the executive cabinet to require three out of the four newly established diversity objectives to qualify for the U.S. diversity credit.

Iowa State University administration and faculty have received feedback from students over the past years that the legacy objectives needed to be updated since they were established in the ’90s. While the Senate and University have approved the four new outcomes, they had yet to determine how many of those objectives would be required.

During the meeting, Provost Johnathan Wickert said he would not sign a bill that requires all four objectives because of student and faculty choice, class capacity concerns and HF 802.

In 2019-2020 the university filled approximately 7,413 seats, and in 2020-2021 approximately 6,700 seats.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed HF 802 into law in June. The bill outlines defined concepts that are barred from mandatory diversity training for public institutions and agencies. Wickert met with Faculty Senate leadership after HF 802 passed to explain his rationale behind withholding his signature. 

“We are working through a complex issue right now, and in my view the way you work through a complex issue is through dialogue, through respect and through compromise,” Wickert said. “I believe in where we have landed, and it may not be the most elegant path to where we get to now, but I believe where we have landed is a win.”

The Senate voted to approve four required objectives in the last meeting of the spring. After the Senate’s approval, for the requirements to be officially implemented, they need the signature of the Iowa State University president and vice president, in addition to the president. 

A vote to rescind the amendment would have sent the Senate back to the drawing board with the modern objectives and reestablished the original. The Faculty Senate has deliberated on the amendment to U.S. diversity requirements for the last three meetings of the fall semester.

The original requirements list five objectives, and courses that qualify as the credit must meet two out of the five requirements. Wickert also said he saw the three out of four requirements as progress but encouraged the Senate to vote based on what they believe is best.

Before the vote, senators debated on whether requiring courses to meet three out of the four objectives would be adequate. The body also debated on whether the executive cabinet had the authority to make the amendment. 

“The reason to rescind is to affirm our commitment to robust academic freedom, to the democratic norms that are enshrined in the Faculty Senate constitution and bylaws,” Ann Marie Butler, senate secretary, said.

Butler said Iowa State University Legal Counsel’s interpretation of the HF802 is an outlier from the other institutions. While the University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa have both established HF 802 applies to training and not curriculum. In the first Faculty Senate meeting of the year, Wickert joined University Counsel Attorney Michael Norton in a presentation on how to reduce the risk of violating HF802. 

Ann Smiley, professor, and senator for the kinesiology department, spoke against the resolution to rescind the executive order amendment because she thought the executive board acted within their power, and without the decisions, the requirements could have potentially reverted to the five original learning outcomes.

In previous meetings, Smiley has spoken in favor of the three out of four requirements because she thinks requiring four would limit academic freedom. 

“To go to four out of four limits what courses can meet this to the point that we are stepping on academic freedom which is something we all stand for,” Smiley said.

Jose Rosa, senator for the business department, said the Faculty Senate is doing the work of shared governance.

“Study the history of shared governance and the academy, and you will find multiple times where things have been really, really ugly,” Rosa said. “We defend shared governance because we believe in it, but it is not easy, it is painful.”  

Rosa said he believed Wickert upheld shared governance in a difficult circumstance because he is also an agent of the state.  

David Peterson, senator for the political science department, said he had an ideological preference for the four or three requirements, but he did have a concern with the process in which the requirements were amended. 

According to the Faculty Senate bylaws, the executive cabinet can not take any action that contradicts an act of the Senate. The Faculty Senate specifically voted against three out of four requirements in senate sessions during the spring semester.

Representatives from the executive board said the intentions of the amendment were to take a step forward and not lose the opportunity to update the requirements. 

Brian Behnken, at-large senator for the history department, said he supported the motion to rescind because of the procedural concerns. He said he also doesn’t understand why the Senate is rushing to approve requirements when there are still unanswered questions such as the concerns brought by Wickert.  

During the meeting, the Faculty Senate received a survey to report on whether the current form of their course meets the requirements. The instructor survey reported an 83 percent course response rate and a 79 percent instructor response rate. The U.S. Diversity Committee will approve all U.S. diversity courses, but this committee has yet to be formed. Therefore the actual threshold of content needed to meet an objective. 

The large majority of surveyed courses met would qualify for as a U.S. diversity course, but this is not guaranteed. Behnken said this survey is a start to answering the many questions there still are.

“We all follow some scientific process in our research,” Behnken said. “It would be like writing the results before you do the analysis. We wouldn’t get past peer review. So that is why I am in favor of rescinding, let’s do the process right. Let’s answer the questions, and if we need to make the changes to three out of the four, let’s do that.”