Iowa’s Board of Regents will hold an emergency meeting next week to discuss confidential information and records concerning emergency preparedness and response controls — and to consider enacting a new policy giving the board president “emergency authorization” power.
The meeting comes as the novel coronavirus continues its spread across the country and Iowa, prompting widespread and unprecedented measures — including announcements this week that all three of Iowa’s public universities will move classes online for at least two weeks through April 3.
Private colleges and universities and community colleges have made similar moves — although each campus is conforming plans to their specific student bodies.
Much of Tuesday’s telephonic Board of Regents meeting will happen in closed session because disclosure of confidential emergency preparedness information and records the regents plan to discuss “could reasonably be expected to jeopardize life or property.”
The board will convene in public to discuss approving a new “emergency authorizations” policy giving the regents president — currently Mike Richards — the ability to “respond promptly to emergency circumstances.”
“The president of the Board of Regents is authorized to determine a state of emergency exists at one or more of the institutions under the jurisdiction of the Board of Regents based upon circumstances that pose an imminent threat to the health or safety of persons or property at the affected institution(s),” according to the proposed policy language.
“In the event of an emergency, the president is authorized to take such action as may be necessary to safeguard persons or property at the affected institution(s).”
Such action could include suspension of all or any portion of the board’s policy manual — which covers campuses’ facilities and academic mandates, among other things.
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The new policy, which the board’s nine members will consider next week, requires the board president to seek ratification from the full board of any emergency authorization actions taken “at the earliest possible time,” and no later than the next regularly scheduled meeting.
As for the board’s next regular meeting in April, it’s changing the format to a telephonic gathering — allowing participants to call in remotely — instead of convening on the Iowa State University campus as planned.
“A room at Iowa State University will be open to the public for citizens to come listen to the meeting,” according to communication from the board office.
As regents prepare to assess their role in the campuses’ emergency response and preparedness, the institutions are scrambling to answer questions from students, faculty, and staff about how to navigate the rushed midsemester transition from traditional in-person classes to online delivery.
Iowa State, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa have posted on their respective websites answers to frequently asked questions — including one on the UI website asking about options for staff who don’t have the ability to work remotely.
Such limitations might pertain to staff who work in the food service or custodial departments or to those without internet access.
“If telecommuting is not appropriate or available, employees may be required to use accrued paid leave or leave without pay as authorized by university policies,” the UI answered. “The university’s intent is to avoid that option if possible.”
Normal leave policies will continue to be applied, according to the university, “unless a decision to change them for the campus emergency event is made by the proper university authority and communicated to campus.”
Although the campuses are staying open during the cessation of in-person classes, and keeping residence halls and dining facilities open, too, they are following public health guidance on activities and events, and evaluating plans for commencement — for example.
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UNI on Thursday issued new guidance for campus gatherings that — among other things — prohibits university events involving more than 25 participants between March 16 and April 6 and urges smaller gatherings to consider virtual options.
“This includes on-campus events and university-supported events at other locations,” according to the UNI guidance.
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