CEDAR FALLS | Professors forced to take a disputed incentive package and resign from the University of Northern Iowa wonder if they might get their jobs back after a district court recently ruled that those incentives should have been negotiated through the faculty union.
A Polk County District judge recently affirmed an earlier ruling by the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board that those buyout terminations conducted during last year's budget cuts should have been negotiated with the union, not individually.
In the wake of academic program cuts, some faculty took a phased retirement or a so-called Early Separation Incentive Program, a lump sum equivalent to a year's salary, paid sick days and 18 months of insurance benefits.
Anne Lair, former head of UNI's French department, said she was "forced under duress" to accept the incentive package even though she was tenured.
"It was either that or face a layoff, meaning no income. Would you want to take that chance? I can't. I have a family to support," she said.
She took an assistant professor job at the University of Utah in Salt Lake Citym but it's a non-tenure track position. Lair said she's waiting for UNI to offer her position back.
"I lost a third of my income," she said, "but I did what I thought was least traumatizing for my family. We crossed the nation to get a job."
Lair said she still feels "insulted and humiliated" by the way UNI administration handled program cuts and faculty layoffs.
"Every single day until justice is done, I will continue to think about what happened at Northern Iowa and will never forget that episode in my life," she said.
Kenneth DeNault, who taught in UNI's now nonexistent geology department for 40 years, also took the incentive package and resigned with the hope that two younger faculty members could keep their positions.
"To have 40 years of your life thrown in the Dumpster without even a thank you ... the monetary cash isn't too much of an incentive," he said.
The Iowa Board of Regents is considering appealing the district judge's decision to the Iowa Supreme Court.
Eric Tabor, a spokesman from the Iowa Attorney General's office representing the regents, confirmed Wednesday that an appeal was being considered. The board has until Oct. 29 to decide whether to take the case to the Supreme Court.
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The University of Northern Iowa had no comment on the matter, and the Iowa Board of Regents did not respond to a request for an interview.
Joe Gorton, president of United Faculty, UNI's faculty union, said an appeal would be "a waste of time and taxpayers dollars."
But Gorton said United Faculty wants to have an "in-depth conversation" with the regents about the implications of the court ruling.
"We think this should reopen the conversation about the status of their employment," he said.
The declaratory order stems from controversial decisions in 2012 to address budget shortfalls by closing the Malcolm Price Laboratory School, cancel several academic programs and terminate professors’ employment.
In response to the terminations, United Faculty filed a complaint with the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board. IPERB ruled in favor of United Faculty on May 20, 2012.
That decision was appealed by the Board of Regents to the civil district court that ruled against the regents.
The ruling also could have broad implications for other Iowa public employees facing job termination.
See UNI FACULTY, page A2
Court: Union should have
been consulted about firings