Regents' DEI review likely to take several months

A state Board of Regents working group tasked with reviewing diversity, equity and inclusion programming and efforts at Iowa's three public universities is developing a comprehensive process but hasn't yet begun its review. At the board's April 20 meeting, president Michael Richards said the board's regular meeting in November is the tentative target for the group to present its findings and recommendations to the full board.

In March, Richards appointed regents David Barker, Jim Lindenmayer and Greta Rouse to lead the review process. He said the three regents have been working with board staff, in consultation with the three university presidents, to outline their work and the process they'll follow.

Once it begins "we expect the review to take several months and will likely stretch into the fall semester. Faculty, staff and students from the universities will be included in the process," Richards said. Any member of the public will be able to provide input via a web-based form, he added.

"This is a very important topic. The board looks forward to letting the working group create the process and do its work," he said.

Comments on employee compensation

In anticipation of a FY 2024 salary policy discussion at their June meeting, board members received comments from the leaders of employee representative groups about their constituents' pay situation. At Iowa State, those leaders are accounting associate professor Jon Perkins, Faculty Senate; and Jamie Sass, P&S Council, who directs the writing and speaking center in the Ivy College of Business.

Perkins told the regents the mean salary for tenure-eligible faculty in each of ISU's colleges is significantly below that at peer institutions, making it difficult to compete for new high-quality faculty. Faculty in the colleges of Business, Human Sciences and Liberal Arts and Sciences have either the lowest or next-to-lowest salaries when compared to peer institutions.

In addition to low base salaries, Perkins said salary adjustments in the last five years haven't kept up with inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

"In particular, salary adjustments for fiscal years 2021 (0) and 2022 (3.5%) fell dramatically short of keeping up with inflation -- 6.1% and 9.7%, respectively -- resulting in effective salary decreases of 6%," he said.

Referencing the new 2022-31 strategic plan, Perkins noted that "ISU is striving to be much more than an average university."

"I urge you to do everything you can do to support our faculty with salaries that allow them to feel they are not at the 'bottom of the barrel' and show them their efforts are acknowledged and appreciated."

Sass, who submitted written comments, said professional and scientific staff fill roles that support and help retain "the university's most valuable asset: our students."

"For the first time in my career at Iowa State, I'm seeing my colleagues leave Iowa State in waves, chasing different opportunities with better chances for career advancement and yes, better salaries," she wrote.

She noted that with the exception of 2019, performance-based salary increases in the last five years failed to keep up with cost-of-living adjustments, creating "a brutal financial reality for many P&S employees."

Many staff stay out of loyalty -- to students, faculty and the university, but that's not a sustainable strategy, she argued. The failure to invest in P&S talent, including salary increases to retain them, ultimately hurts students and the university's bottom line, she wrote.

"Please, do what is right for us. Keep fighting in the Legislature for meaningful salary increases because, without big steps forward, we will continue to face challenges in recruiting and retaining the staff who bring the university to life," she concluded.

Iowa State building projects

The regents approved Iowa State's requests to:

  • Purchase and install a combination of donated and discounted feed mill and grain processing equipment ($11.2 million) at the new $24 million grain science complex on the Curtiss Farm west of Ames along U.S. Highway 30. The new complex replaces three ISU feed mills and will be used for research and training future employees in grain and feed facilities to serve the state's ag industries.
  • Begin planning for an estimated $23 million project to add 16,000 square feet to the southeast corner of the Lied Recreation Athletic Center and renovate 20% of the facility. The addition will be named for the Kirk and Rae Malcolm family, who provided a lead $5 million gift. The project will expand weight rooms, locker rooms and sports medicine areas for the Cyclone wrestling and track and field programs. Recreation services, which uses roughly two-thirds of the facility, and the athletics department would exchange some space. Rec services' space allocation wouldn't diminish. An early timeline gets the project to completion in fall 2025.
  • Build seven teaching labs for textile sciences (apparel, events and hospitality management department) in the Human Nutritional Sciences Building, permanently replacing and modernizing current labs in the adjacent LeBaron Hall which is scheduled for replacement. University funds would cover the $2.1 million cost; estimated completion is fall 2025.