Lack of professors prompts outcry from students, alumni

Students have expressed frustration over lack of faculty in the Construction Management program.

CAROLINE CHRISTENSEN, News Editor

Construction Management Program students and alums express concern regarding lack of full-time faculty

UNI’s Construction Management Program will be receiving a $44 million dollar renovation for their building, but students, faculty and alumni are concerned there will not be enough professors to teach classes in their new facility.

Andrew Welty, a senior in Construction Management, has served on the Construction Management Club Executive Team and is a Student Representative on the Construction Management Advisory Council. On April 18, he wrote a letter to President Mark Nook, Provost Jose Herrera and  John Fritch, Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Sciences, expressing concern regarding the lack of faculty in the program.

“Saying the past few years has been a struggle for the students would be an understatement,” Welty wrote in his letter to Dean Fritch. “We have been faced with extensive faculty turnover and even classes starting without faculty assignments.” 

Thankfully, through support of our industry, we have found representatives to teach our classes but unfortunately they have limited time to prepare and it doesn’t provide consistency in our UNI learning experience.”

According to Welty, ten years ago the program had 92 students enrolled with three full-time faculty and adjunct professors to fill curriculum gaps. Today the program is one of the fastest growing majors on campus with 160 students enrolled. However the students have only one full-time faculty member (who is on phased retirement), and four adjunct professors to teach classes.

Fritch acknowledged these concerns and frustrations expressed by students and alums.

“I am certainly aware of their concerns, and agree with their concerns,” Fritch said. “We are trying to hire folks into those positions, but one of the challenges is it is difficult to find that kind of faculty member. I have been Dean since 2015, we have probably conducted six or seven faculty searches for that position. Several of those have not been successful.”

UNI has struggled to find candidates to fill professor positions in the construction management program because many people in the field do not want to get Ph.Ds as the degree is often not necessary to advance their career. In response, UNI is starting to redefine their requirements for what it means to be a faculty member in the program to attract more applicants with industry experience.

In the meantime, UNI has utilized adjunct professors to fill positions. Although adjunct professors have tried to create the best possible learning experience for students, Welty emphasizes it is far from a perfect solution.

“One time we had an adjunct professor teaching from her car while getting an oil change,” Welty said. “We have had some great adjuncts fill in at the last minute, but it’s hard to teach a college class when you have two weeks’ notice. Some of these people are not professors. They are people from the industry, or who have left the industry or are retired trying to jump into it.”

Because adjunct professors have been relied on heavily to teach classes, there have been noticeable inconsistencies in the curriculum.

“It has been a major detriment to this program,” Welty said. “Students are experiencing gaps. The professors who have taught have done a great job trying to fill those gaps, but it’s inconsistent from year to year. When you have teachers coming in the door two weeks before they start, they don’t know what they need to teach so there are big gaps in students’ learning.”

Fritch notes UNI has relied on adjunct professors as they often have industry experience, and for upcoming semesters they will be able to hire adjuncts earlier so they know what classes they will be teaching well before the beginning of the semester.

Because of the lack of professors in the program, some classes required for graduation are not offered every semester which can complicate schedules for students. Students who want to try a co-op internship for six months or fail a class may have to pay for an extra semester or year to take a required class. Fritch acknowledges these concerns and says UNI is planning on hiring an additional faculty member within the next couple of days. “We’ve asked for permission to start the process to recruit folks to the university immediately,” Fritch said. 

Lack of faculty has been an almost decade long struggle for the construction management program, with 2016 alum Eric Bridgewater writing to Dean Fritch, “As a student at UNI from 2012 through 2016 in the Construction Management program, I too have seen firsthand the challenges and lack of faculty allocated to the CM program that has now been plaguing the program for nearly 10 years.”

Twenty-six current students and alumni echoed Welty’s concerns and wrote to Fritch as well. Industries who have donated to the program for a new building have also expressed frustration. Greg Spencer, President and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) wrote, “As long time financial and time commitment supporters of the UNI CM program, ABC of Iowa and its members have concerns with the current state of the CM program and its direction going forward.”

Industries are often willing to donate to UNI’s construction management program because of the unique qualifications and experiences it offers students. As Welty describes, companies love construction management students because they are not engineers, but still have the technical background to be managers. Their program has certainly attracted the attention of several employers, with fifty companies attending a student led career fair last year. Although Welty acknowledges budget restraints, he says the university may lose students if the program is not better supported.

Fritch further emphasizes UNI’s support for the construction management program by stating, “This is a program we are really proud of. It has really strong connections with construction programs and the state of Iowa. We will be doing everything we can to keep this program strong, and to make it even stronger.”