University of Iowa survey found that half of responding employees have recently considered leaving the company

The Pentacrest on the University of Iowa campus. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — More than half of the nearly 6,000 faculty and staff at the University of Iowa who responded to a recent on-campus climate survey said they had “seriously considered leaving the university” in the past 12 months – primarily due to pay, workplace culture or career advancement.

UI released its climate poll results the same week that a union representing thousands of UI health workers called for a 14 percent pay rise and, among other things, more safety precautions for nurses and medical workers – amid rising violence between patients and staff in recent months and years.

“People are leaving,” UIHC nurse Courtney Smith told Board of Regents negotiators last week after her original contract proposal offered a pay rise of 1.5 to 3 percent.

New results from UI’s climate survey — which was distributed to 45,580 faculty, staff and students, graduates and professionals in March 2022 and yielded a 23 percent response rate — touched on a range of issues impacting the campus experience, including employee retention , freedom of speech, diversity and bias.

Of the 5,759 faculty, staff, and postdoctoral researchers who responded to the survey, 36 percent said they experienced some form of negative bias, intimidation, or hostile treatment. Three-quarters of this group said the bias caused them to leave UI — up from 69 percent in 2020.

The percentage was higher among certain demographic groups – such as the underrepresented minorities, multiracial, disabled or LGTBQ groups. And prejudice also impacted performance in 70 percent of those affected; eroded trust for 69 percent; and impaired the health of 72 percent.

“Experienced bias is among the top 5 reasons for dropping out of college,” according to the climate survey.

The top bias among the reasons respondents wanted to leave UI was salary, cited by 62 percent; workplace climate and culture, named by 59 percent; and opportunities for advancement at 43 percent. The overall percentage of respondents who said they had seriously considered leaving rose 12 percentage points in 2022 from 39 percent in 2018.

Freedom of Speech, Diversity

Assessing other hot topics in campus culture — such as freedom of expression and diversity efforts — the survey found that most undergraduate students surveyed felt that faculty “expresses diverse viewpoints.”

Fewer vocational students thought so – at 78 percent. And — across all undergraduate levels — the proportion who agreed that faculty encourages diverse viewpoints was lower among minority and conservative students, which goes to the heart of a long-held grievance among Republican lawmakers who have for years blasted the governing universities of Iowa over alleged Politics, practices and professors hammer left-wing orientation.

“I don’t care if it’s left or right, there’s no excuse for intimidating free speech,” MP Steve Holt, R-Denison, told the Regent Heads in 2021 during a hearing on the issue.

⧉ Related article: University of Iowa staff salaries for fiscal year 2022

A solid majority of students, faculty, and staff in the survey agreed that UI prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion — although the 83 percent is down from 91 percent in 2018. And 36 percent of faculty and staff said UI “places too much value” over DEI, while 27 percent of faculty and staff said DEI “distracts from fulfilling our academic mission,” according to the survey.

“The common thread running through these results is to continue our focus on unifying our campus culture,” said Liz Tovar, executive officer and associate vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, in a statement — citing the survey, the UI has performed every two years since 2018.

‘Working in Iowa’

UI Human Resources also collected data from employees in October via a Working at Iowa survey that was sent to 6,310 faculty and employees, excluding UI Health Care employees, who will release their own study results later this month.

Of the 4,355 UI employees who took part in the job survey — a response rate of 69 percent — a large majority at some level agreed that they have clear job expectations, a respectful manager, and clear goals.

Fewer respondents strongly agreed or agreed that entities share workloads fairly — at 53 percent; that UI recognizes faculty and staff achievements — at 46 percent; and that UI offers opportunities for advancement – at 47 percent.

Looking at responses by employee type—including faculty members, professional and academic staff, and earners, including blue-collar and clerical positions—a smaller percentage of earners, at 13 percent, strongly agreed that UI offers promotion opportunities; that UI treats them respectfully at 15 percent; and that UI recognizes their achievements with 12 percent.

According to Cheryl Reardon, UI’s chief human resources officer, addressing these underperforming areas in the survey could help UI with its retention struggles — highlighted in the adjacent climate survey.

“Highly engaged employees are critical to the university’s mission of providing a world-class education,” Reardon said in a statement. “Working on those areas where we see lower levels of approval will help us attract and retain the best faculty and staff to fulfill this mission.”

Vanessa Miller reports on higher education for The Gazette.

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