On Wednesday, July 3 members of Faculty Forward Iowa met in a small closed meeting with Sen. Bernie Sanders to discuss the unique challenges facing college and university professors. 16 University of Iowa non-tenure track faculty members attended the meeting, some accompanied by their family members.
The group applauded the senator’s efforts to address soaring tuition and student loan debt in higher education and expressed the importance of ensuring that the educators who actually spend time in the classroom day in and day out have a voice on the job. Worker leaders told the story of a two-year effort to fight for a union at their school, despite facing some of the most unfriendly union legislation in the country, and the progress they have made in winning expansions of health coverage and organizing their colleagues.
Professor Erik Westlund shared with Sen. Sanders his personal journey in education, having started his career as a high school teacher with full benefits, job security and union protections, and then going back to school for a graduate degree and becoming a college professor who has no benefits, no job security, and little opportunity for advancement. He ended by saying that after six years, he makes exactly the same amount now as he did as a high school teacher-–minus the benefits and protections.
As the meeting came to its close, Bernie summarized his shock and solidarity with their struggle: “You’re getting ripped off big time,” he said, “not by a private company, not by the Waltons, by a public institution…You are the future of America, you should be treated well.” He further advised the professors in the room to band together with students and publicly demand the university act.