CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa eyeing support, resources for employees after Iowa City school district decision

'We know that dealing with this evolving situation can cause stress and anxiety'

(File photo) The Old Capitol Building between Schaeffer Hall (left) and Macbride Hall (right) on the Pentacrest on campu
(File photo) The Old Capitol Building between Schaeffer Hall (left) and Macbride Hall (right) on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — In discussing human resources support for employees being asked to return to campus this fall, the University of Iowa on Wednesday acknowledged new complications faculty and staff now face after the Iowa City Community School District late Tuesday opted to start the academic year online.

“Please rest assured, we are actively engaged in discussion and planning with campus leaders for assistance and support for child care, as well as use of our remote work policies and available leave for our working families as we start the fall semester,” Joni Troester, an assistant vice president with UI Human Resources, said during a virtual town hall Wednesday. “As new information becomes available, we’ll continue to update our resources and communicate with campus.”

The Iowa City school board voted unanimously Tuesday to start the year Aug. 24 with virtual learning only, indicating in-person instruction won’t resume until at least Oct. 6. Even then, the board isn’t committed to bringing back 14,000-some students, and it’s honing potential transition dates for face-to-face instruction.

But while the Iowa City area’s children will be at home when the academic year begins, many of their parents working for the region’s largest employer — the University of Iowa — are being asked to return to campus.

“The University of Iowa understands that the decision made by the Iowa City Community School District Board of Education to hold virtual classes for K-12 students in the fall presents many UI employees with the challenge of balancing their children’s education with work demands,” according to a UI communication distributed Wednesday afternoon. “We know that dealing with this evolving situation can cause stress and anxiety.”

UI administrators have urged faculty and staff to prioritize in-person instruction this fall — as many students prefer the on-campus experience and have suggested they’ll unenroll or postpone their education if UI learning remains online.

All three of Iowa’s public universities shifted to virtual instruction mid-March amid COVID-19 concerns, and they’ve kept learning online this summer. But even with plans for a return to campus this fall, enrollment is projected to drop, compounding coronavirus budget pains in the tens of millions and cuts in state funding.

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UI officials have said keeping instruction online would exacerbate budget woes — prompting deans and other administrators to urge faculty and staff to do as much in-person instruction as possible.

“The UI is committed to working with employees and supervisors to determine how to best use flexible work arrangements and other available options to manage challenges many employees may be facing,” according to the UI message Wednesday. “University Human Resources will share additional information and guidance in the coming weeks.”

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

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