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Drake professors speak out about cuts to course offerings, summer pay

Photo by Joshua Bruer | Staff Photographer

An email sent to Drake faculty members by Provost Sue Mattison on Sept. 10 has left some professors frustrated and worried about the university’s budget priorities.

The email laid out plans to decrease the number of course offerings in each department and set a new flat rate of pay for teaching summer classes, among other cutbacks. Mattison said these cuts come in the midst of ongoing budget issues for Drake that led to $4.2 million in salary reductions and a $4.5 million decrease in contributions to faculty members’ retirement funds in the 2020-2021 academic year.

“If you’ve been doing the math, my vision alongside our budget situation and the external environment are at odds, and the vision is not sustainable for Drake through the long term,” Mattison wrote in the email.

Mattison wrote that the proposals in the email are intended to save expenses and allow Drake to increase professors’ salaries in the long run, with the goal being to increase salaries to “80% of the median target for their discipline.” She noted that last year, the university spent $1.5 million on teaching overloads, not including First-Year Seminar, January Term courses, Drake Law School courses or Bulldog Foundations courses.

Teaching overloads often lead to faculty teaching summer courses. Mattison said she believes these additional courses may contribute to a culture of overwork at Drake.

“Since I’ve been at Drake, the comments and complaints that I hear most frequently is how overworked everybody is, and how underpaid everybody is,” Mattison said.

Additionally, Mattison said that the ability to teach summer classes is a privilege unto itself.

“There are some people that may have kids at home, they may have other responsibilities that [prevent them from teaching] extra during the year or during the summer,” Mattison said. “And so they don’t have the same opportunities to increase their salaries as other people who do. Cutting down on the number of overloads means less work, and using that money to pay people fairly across the board.”

However, some faculty members have expressed concerns over the way in which the university intends to resolve its budget issues.

“Some faculty are concerned that their entire programs or the classes that they teach might have to go away because of things like low enrollment, which basically means that those classes or even entire programs are not generating enough revenue,” said one Drake professor who asked to remain anonymous. “So for us to provide those classes and programs, that really is an expense to us that we’re not getting the benefit from.”

Another money-saving measure Drake is aiming for is a decrease in the number of adjunct faculty who are brought in to teach classes. For current faculty, this raises the question of whether their workload will be increased to accommodate the shift. The anonymous professor said that many Drake professors think the administration doesn’t hire enough new faculty members despite having sufficient funds to do so.

“A lot of the classes that we offer are offered by adjunct professors because Drake historically hasn’t really done a very good job at refilling faculty spots for faculty who have retired,” the anonymous professor said. “So many retirements have happened when we hadn’t actually replaced that faculty [member]. The provost really wants to cut the adjunct budget because from her standpoint, when she cuts that money out of the budget, she can use that money to raise people’s salaries. But the problem then is, who is going to teach those classes?”

Another concern among professors is the change to summer school pay. Previously, faculty members’ pay for teaching summer classes was a percentage of their salary from the regular school year. According to the provost’s email, this will change so every professor will be paid the same flat rate for teaching summer classes.

The professor said that lowering some faculty members’ summer pay while raising others does not represent equity.

“What we’re going to do is we’re going to introduce a flat rate for summer pay, which is being sold to us as an equity thing,” the anonymous professor said. “So like, everybody’s going to make the same amount of money. For some faculty, that new flat rate is a small increase, as far as I understand, a few hundred [dollars] more than what the average faculty in those colleges would make if they taught in the summer. For other colleges, as far as I know, it’s an almost 50% decrease in their summer pay.”

Nate Holdren, a Drake professor in the Law, Politics and Society Department, said he has known many faculty members who have left Drake because they were not satisfied with their salaries.

“Because of pay, there’s high turnover, and the turnover is disruptive,” Holdren said. “Also because of pay, there is a fair amount of dissatisfaction, which just makes it less of a pleasant place to work. It’s a lower quality of life.”

Holdren said that many faculty members only stay because of the job satisfaction they get from the students.

“And I think that’s kind of taking advantage of our better nature because we’re all dedicated to students,” Holdren said. “I think one of the things that means is that the university can treat people this way, and it promotes turnover and it creates all these negative effects.”

Provost Mattison said the reactions from professors are on par with what she expected, but she said that they should remember the benefits of this plan.

“There has been nothing unexpected, I would say,” Mattison said. “I mean, some people are going to get paid less. But I want them to also recall that they’re going to work less and that they’re going to be paid fairly, so that’s, like, the overarching method while keeping [Drake’s] mission at the center of the curriculum.”

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