Senate bill threatens employee tenure


Iowa State Sen. Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale who endorsed Donald Trump, speaks at a town hall for Trump at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa on Dec. 11.Mandatory credit to Alex Hanson if used elsewhere.

Alex Connor

Iowa Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, is hoping to make a change in the way regent universities handle tenure, according to a bill recently introduced to the Senate on Wednesday.

The bill will urge the Board of Regents to prohibit “the establishment or continuation of a tenure system at the regent universities.”

The Iowa Legislature, which convened Monday for what Gov. Terry Branstad described as a “historic session” with Republicans holding control of both the House and Senate, along with the governor’s office.

If the bill were to be approved, it would provide “acceptable grounds for termination” for tenure employees if there is, but not limited to, just cause, program discontinuance and financial exigency. 

“The bill provides that each dean of a college at a regents university and the president of the university shall employ faculty as necessary to carry out the academic duties and responsibilities of the college,” the bill reads.

When asked about his thoughts on the bill, Zaun told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday that he obviously wants to end tenure.

“I think the university should have the flexibility to hire and fire professors and then I don’t think that bad professors should have a lifetime position guaranteed at colleges,” Zaun said. “It is as simple as that.”

Currently, tenure-eligible Iowa State faculty are appointed by the university for a specified period of time appointed as either A-base (12-month) or B-base (nine-month), according to the Iowa State website.

The introduction of the bill is just one possible change that the Iowa higher education structure could face in 2017, specifically after Branstad proposed roughly $34 million in budget cuts from the regents Tuesday. 

While Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter displayed understanding for the revenue restraints from the state, he was less dismissive of Zaun’s bill.

“We recognize the concern about merit-based evaluations addressed in the bill, however, the Board of Regents understands the role of tenure,” Rastetter told the Des Moines Register. “We oppose this bill, and I look forward to meeting with Sen. Zaun to hear his thoughts.”

Iowa State, according to a regent report released in April 2016, had 1,003 tenured employees with 315 on the tenure track during the 2015-16 academic year. The makeup of non-tenure-track employees is 30.2 percent.

Apart from tenure, the bill also suggests that the Board of Regents “shall also establish a program to create faculty opportunities for women educators at the universities under the board’s control.”

The Des Moines Register reported Wednesday that Democratic senators see the bill as a serious proposal and are planning to fight against it.

“It is pure political silliness,” Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, told the Des Moines Register. “It is micro-managing from Des Moines on its face. But substantively, it will harm Iowa’s ability to recruit the best professors around the world.”