State university leaders receive pay increases; grad students demand one too


By Jack McClellan

Iowa’s Board of Regents held their April meeting in Ames, Iowa, inside the Reiman Ballroom of the Alumni Center.

By Katherine Kealey, Iowa Capital Dispatch [email protected]

Editor’s note: The original version of this article was published to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. The Iowa State Daily included an addition to the article specifically relating to Iowa State University and reformatted it. 

Three years ago Iowa State University underwent an assessment of the conditions of existing academic and research facilities on campus. Over a 30-year period, the university will replace or renew  2.3 million square feet of buildings and 700,000 square feet of new construction. 

The assessment found that 57% of buildings need modernization and renewal for functional adequacy. There is also a backlog of deferred maintenance due to insufficient funding with 32% of buildings in need of multiple system replacements to maintain the functions. 

Priority was to make the most out of the existing facilities 

The last full campus master plan was performed in 1991 and each project within the master plan will be submitted for the Board of Regents’ approval. 

After years of flooding, the Regents approved the development of approximately 40 acres of land between Iowa State Center and Jack Trice. The plan is to raise the parking above the 100-year flood plain while replacing parking and lighting. New water, power, gas and phone systems will be included in the construction as well as new storm sewers and sanitary lines. 

The Therkildsen Industrial Engineering Building is a 77,000 gross square foot addition for the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing System Engineering. The department currently occupies the Black Engineering Building but a study conducted by the College of Engineering found a critical shortage of workspace for the department. 

Costs will come from the private giving and university funds totaling $54 million. The addition resolves the space shortage by creating new teaching and research labs, classrooms and office space for the department.

After closed session on Tuesday, members of the University of Iowa’s graduate student union called on the Iowa Board of Regents to raise salaries for graduate workers to match rates of inflation. 

For the 2021-2023 academic year, returning employees receive a minimum salary increase of 1.3%. Graduate workers told the board, during its regular meeting this week, the increase isn’t enough to keep up with the rising cost of living.

The request comes after several years of cuts in state aid for the Regents universities. The legislature approved a $5.5 million increase for the three universities for fiscal year 2023 but this falls short of the Regents request of $18 million. This additional funding would have restored the $8 million funding cut from 2020. Overall, funding for higher education in Iowa is less than state allocations in 2009 not accounting for inflation.

Members of the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS) will meet with the Regents for negotiations in the fall and union representatives said they will demand at least a 7% increase. COGS members will  also request paid parental leave and for the Regents to clarify policies within the Graduate Workers Handbooks. Union representatives said to be pregnant while working as a graduate worker is a “terrifying time” due to unsafe working conditions and uncertainty on the parental leave guidelines. 

Glenn Houlihan serves as the chief campus steward for COGS Union and is an international graduate worker at the University of Iowa. Houlihan said employees who work paycheck to paycheck will feel the pain of inflation unlike the highest-paid employees such as the university president or the University of Iowa football coach.

“As an international graduate worker I am unable to seek additional employment outside of the university, compounding the misery of insufficient pay rises,” Houlihan said. “…Anything under inflation is effectively a pay cut which none us in this room will stand for.”

The Board of Regents approved a $50,000 salary increase for University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson and Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen. Superintendent of the Iowa School for Deaf Steve Gettel received a $20,000 performance incentive. 

Board of Regents Executive Director Mark Braun was granted a $50,000 retention bonus while receiving a deferred compensation plan with annual contributions of $130,000 starting July 1.

All three universities were authorized a new deferred compensation plan for the next two years. The University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook and Wilsons plan will amount to $50,000 while Winterstreen’s annual contributions will total $40,000.

“We are very pleased with our university leadership and we are pleased with Superintendent Gettel’s service,” Board of Regents President Mike Richards said. “We want to continue with the same leadership team and this is an indication of our willingness and interest in keeping a steady course as we go forward. Other people say it differently but I believe we like the team.”

In other business

Mental Health – The Regents approved the University of Iowa’s request to develop the Iowa Center for School Mental Health in the College of Education. The center will provide training for teachers on mental health education as well as conduct research on how to implement mental health services for students struggling with mental health.

The center will receive a one-time grant of $20 million from the Iowa Department of Education and will receive future revenue from additional research, grants and philanthropic support. 

Board elections – The Regents nominated and re-elected President Mike Richards and President Pro-Tem Sherry Bates to serve an additional two years in their roles.

Outcomes of free speech training – In February the Iowa Board of Regents launched a free speech training program to educate faculty and students about the basic principles of the First Amendment in an educational environment. The training was required of all students and faculty but there was no penalty for not completing the training.

University of Northern Iowa had a faculty completion rate of 76% and a student completion rate of 39%. Iowa State University on the other hand had a competition rate for faculty of 60% and 86% of staff with and 37% students finished the training. At the University of Iowa, 38% of undergraduate students completed the training and 57% of faculty and staff completed the training.