Iowa’s Board of Regents on Tuesday completed closed-door annual performance reviews of its university presidents, special schools superintendent, and executive director without taking any action — one year after the leaders landed contract extensions and compensation bumps amounting to millions in eventual payouts.
But conditions across Iowa’s public university system during this unprecedented pandemic-plagued summer are vastly different from last, when regents praised the presidents’ momentum and moved ahead with a five-year tuition model promising stepped rate hikes for all students.
Today, the universities are facing tens of millions in COVID-19-related losses and costs; they’re projecting enrollment drops; and the board has opted to freeze all tuition rates — at least for the fall — in recognition of unexpected economic hardship facing many students and families.
The respective campuses are implementing sweeping budget cuts, translating to layoffs, furloughs, salary reductions, lost vacation, and foregone raises — among other things — as they work to bring back to campus tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff this fall.
As part of his campuses’ reductions, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld recently announced he’s taking a 50 percent base pay cut for the rest of this budget year, amounting to one-time savings of $270,416 to be funneled into a student emergency fund.
Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen also announced she’ll take a 10 percent cut for the budget year that started July 1, pulling $59,000 from her $590,000 base pay.
Neither the universities nor the state Board of Regents have announced changes to the presidents’ deferred compensation contributions — with Harreld due for a $2.33 million payout in 2023; Wintersteen on track for a $1 million payout at that time; and University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook contracted for a payout topping $700,000 in 2025.
The board is scheduled to approve COVID-19-related budget amendments and actions during its upcoming meeting July 29. It did not take any compensation-related action during its Monday and Tuesday evaluations of leaders — some of whom participated remotely.
Both Executive Director Mark Braun and special schools Superintendent Steve Gettel attended the evaluations in person in the board’s Urbandale office — along with some board members. All three university presidents participated remotely, as did some board members, according to spokesman Josh Lehman, who said he doesn’t know from where they participated.
Earlier this year — with much still unknown about the virus’ course and duration — the universities projected losses through August reaching $89 million for Iowa State, $28 million for UNI, and $76 million for UI, excluding UI Hospitals and Clinics.
Wintersteen in a recent communication projected Iowa State’s educational fund losses for the new budget year that just began will top $41 million.
Losses across the campuses have mounted after administrators in mid-March nixed face-to-face learning and moved all courses online for the rest of the spring semester due to COVID-19 — canceling in-person events and activities, including athletics and commencement.
The virtual-only curriculum has continued this summer, even as the campuses begin to welcome back some faculty and staff — reviving various research labs and athletics practices, among other things.
In weighing whether to bring students back for in-person learning this fall — even as COVID-19 cases spike nationally and continue increasing locally — administrators considered student preference for a traditional college experience, including residence halls and face-to-face interaction with classmates and instructors.
But the regent universities are keeping some instruction online, including classes and lectures of 50 or more. They also are mandating masks and taking a wide array of other safety measures, asking instructors to offer virtual options for students at high risk from the virus or for those who become ill.
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