CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa employees directed to work remotely

Regents pass unprecedented emergency-powers policy

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa is seen in September 2018 in an aerial photograph in Iowa City. (
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa is seen in September 2018 in an aerial photograph in Iowa City. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — With the governor’s new emergency proclamation giving state agencies — including the Board of Regents — additional flexibility in responding to the coronavirus, University of Iowa leadership Tuesday directed all employees outside UI Health Care to work remotely.

Only non-health care workers who provide a critical function that must be done on site can continue to work on campus, according to the directive aimed at supporting social distancing and reducing the threat of spread for everyone — including UI employees who have to stay on campus.

The list of those needing to remain includes UI Health Care workers, public safety officers, professors conducting research requiring continuity on site and others providing operational support — such as Cambus drivers.

Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen also Tuesday asked her divisions, colleges, departments and units to “accommodate flexible work arrangements to maintain university operations while maximizing social distancing.”

Iowa State didn’t mandate working from home for all employees who don’t need to be on campus, but Wintersteen urged employees to telecommute if possible. She also directed supervisors to accommodate special needs related to child care challenges and health concerns.

That, she said, could include temporarily changing an employee’s job duties.

The University of Northern Iowa — among its list of tactics for social distancing — included telecommuting as an option. All three of Iowa’s public universities have moved in-person classes online through at least April 3 and closed other campus buildings and facilities, including their respective recreation centers.

In line with the governor’s proclamation giving state agencies more leniency to act in response to the COVID-19 emergency and suspending portions of Iowa Code — including some affecting higher education — the Board of Regents on Tuesday gave its president unprecedented emergency powers.

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Without any public discussion, the board approved a new “emergency authorizations” policy giving the board president — Mike Richards — the power to “take such action as may be necessary to safeguard persons or property at the affected institutions” in the event of an emergency.

Examples of emergency actions outlined in the new policy include suspending or waiving “all or any portion of the Board of Regents policy manual and administrative rules.” The board president — although not required on the front end — will seek ratification from the full board “at the earliest practical time,” but no later than the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting.

The board Tuesday — before taking that emergency action — spent an hour and a half discussing in closed session “information contained in records that are confidential” — including emergency preparedness and response protocols that, if disclosed, “could reasonably be expected to jeopardize life or property.”

Despite the campus closures and employee telecommuting, all three universities are keeping their residence halls open but are urging social distancing practices.

And administrators have acknowledged this is a fluid situation with state and national news affecting their operations on a daily and even hourly basis.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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