Lecture hall seats have been blocked off with tape. Plexiglass barriers are up. Tables have been moved or, in some cases, removed. Foot-operated doors are being installed in restrooms.
Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa begin bringing students back to campus today after evacuating them mid-March when the coronavirus began its spread across Iowa. The schools’ extended residence hall move-in — which includes mandatory COVID-19 testing at ISU — will wrap up just before the fall semester begins, earlier than originally planned, on Aug. 17.
“We expect all students, faculty, and staff to cooperate with our contact tracing process,” ISU President Wendy Wintersteen wrote in a message to campus.
For those testing positive, “Sharing the names of colleagues or friends you were in contact with at work, the gym, or gatherings will not get anyone in trouble,” Wintersteen wrote. “This process is important to prevent the unnecessary spread of COVID-19 and ensure those who were exposed can get the support and resources they may need during quarantine.”
At the University of Iowa, residence hall move-in starts Aug. 14, 10 days before its Aug. 24 start of a first-of-a-kind hybrid fall semester, which prioritizes in-person learning but maintains many virtual components. However, resident assistants began moving into the dorms over the weekend.
With tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff about to converge on the three campuses amid pandemic conditions, Iowa’s public universities are sharing more specifics of how campus life will look.
All three have acknowledged stark differences from the traditional college experience.
Although the campuses are prioritizing face-to-face classes, they’ll continue relying heavily on virtual instruction — especially for large lectures, at-risk students and those who get sick.
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And, in a recent campus message, UI leadership acknowledged its hybrid plan could be scrapped — at least for some classes — if circumstances worsen to the point it’s necessary.
“The length of time we will be able to maintain a blended, face-to-face teaching format will be determined by how members of our campus community adopt the changes required by the university and the city of Iowa City,” according to the message.
University of Iowa
The UI — save for few exceptions — is keeping online all courses of 50 or more students. Those with fewer will prioritize face-to-face instruction, although some “may still be moved to an online or hybrid format if necessary social distancing measures taken in the classroom make online or hybrid delivery a better approach,” according to the recent UI message.
The UI, additionally, is reverting to an entirely online format after Thanksgiving to discourage students from returning to campus after risky holiday travel — although the residence halls will stay open.
ISU and UNI are starting and ending their fall semesters early to avoid Thanksgiving travel and the need to go entirely virtual again.
Addressing many families’ concerns, UI administrators promised to offer options and flexibility related to enrollment and housing decisions, for example.
UI is not, however, accommodating requests for “tuition discounts.”
“The UI does not set tuition; that is the purview of the Board of Regents,” according to the UI message, which went on to stress, “Full tuition is necessary to cover the university’s ongoing operations, including retaining the faculty and staff needed to provide a high-quality educational experience for every single student.”
Although all three of the public universities are offering COVID-19 testing for members of their campuses with symptoms or known coronavirus exposure, ISU is the only one requiring students to get tested before moving into the residence halls.
With the expanded two-week move-in process starting today, ISU’s required testing is expected to impact about 9,000 students — who last week received instructions to report first to the Lied Recreation Athletic Center to be tested and to pick up keys. ISU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory will process the tests within 24 hours.
Any student, faculty, or staff member who tests positive must follow federal guidelines for isolation — regardless of whether they have symptoms. Students living in the residence halls can choose to isolate at home with family or in Linden Hall, which has space reserved for that reason.
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They can keep up with their academics through virtual options, which many courses have, or instructor-assigned alternatives. Faculty who test positive must self-report and isolate.
And any community member exposed — including those notified through contact tracing — must quarantine. For students living on campus, two residence halls have been reserved.
All three universities are distributing free face coverings to returning students, faculty and staff; mandating they wear them when they can’t socially distance; and requiring they take COVID-19 training.
They all are limiting classroom capacity, with UNI announcing its classes have been assigned to rooms in which they’ll use no more than 40 percent of the space.
UNI faculty also will use assigned seating for the semester.
“In some rooms, students may still be sitting within six feet of each other,” according to a recent UNI communication. “While we have reduced the capacity of the rooms to 40 percent, we have not been able to seat everyone with the minimum preferred distance. Masks will be critical for us to slow the spread of the virus, and thus are mandated inside all buildings.”
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