CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa will move to virtual instruction after Thanksgiving

UI unveils its return-to-campus plan for fall

The Old Capitol Building is seen in April 2014 on the Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. (
The Old Capitol Building is seen in April 2014 on the Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Although the University of Iowa is planning to follow its current academic calendar — ending the fall semester Dec. 18 — it will move to online-only instruction after Thanksgiving break, delivering final exams remotely, according to a return-to-campus plan made public Wednesday.

Its housing and dining services — including residence halls — will remain open, however, “to serve those who rely on university services,” according to a message from UI President Bruce Harreld and Provost Montse Fuentes.

Classes involving clinical and experiential activities — like labs — will be handled on a case-by-case basis, according to the administrative message that addressed many highly-anticipated details of an unprecedented fall that comes amid a global pandemic that shut down the campus mid-March.

Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa last week unveiled return-to-campus plans with many similar mitigation measures — although both those schools are ending the semester the day before Thanksgiving.

That means while UI students will be wrapping their courses online in December, ISU and UNI students already will be on winter break.

ISU administrators last week told The Gazette they opted to start the semester a week early, hold classes on Labor Day, and then end at Thanksgiving break — trimming the term by a few days — because they didn’t want to bring students back to campus after traveling home for the holiday.

But they also wanted to offer an in-person component for the entire semester.

None of the universities have disclosed potential changes for the spring semester.

All three moved to virtual instruction in the middle of the spring semester as COVID-19 crippled the state, shutting down not only higher education but most business, social, and governmental enterprise, along with K-12 schools.

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The shutdown and health scare has enrollment projections down for fall — as students waver between coming back for a non-traditional semester and waiting until society returns to a safer degree of normal. Some students and families also are figuring economic and health woes into their decisions on whether to return, making the university’s plans even more imperative.

“The University of Iowa is taking deliberate steps to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for our students, faculty, and staff, as well as our surrounding community,” according to the Wednesday message from Harreld and Fuentes.

And the campuses themselves are facing tens of millions in COVID-19-related losses, meaning any dip in students pining for a more traditional collegiate experience could exacerbate already deep financial pains.

“To say that we’ve missed you is an understatement,” according to the message. “We look forward to seeing you this fall with all your energy and enthusiasm.”

Face coverings

In breaking down specifics of how the UI campus will look different this fall — in its effort to return students safely — officials highlighted changes in the classroom, residence and dining halls, and other facilities and buildings.

The UI plan released Wednesday did not address athletics practices or events for the fall and winter seasons.

The plan did articulate general safety-related changes and requirements, including a mandate that students, faculty, and staff wear face coverings — like masks or shields — in all buildings and classrooms.

The university — which in May issued a bid for up to 10,000 UI-branded masks — will provide every student, faculty, and staff member two cloth masks, two disposable masks, and one face shield, according to the fall plan.

UI leaders also are asking community members to stay six feet from others, when possible, and to stay home and report if they develop COVID-19 symptoms or test positive.

The new COVID-19 rules will come with additional student-, parent-, and employee-specific training — including expectations for social distancing and donning of protective equipment.

The UI Code of Student Life and Student Misconduct Procedures include rules to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Administrators might ask students to submit an “agreement regarding expectations for compliance” before they start the fall semester — “to increase accountability.”

Testing and tracing

The university is looking into both diagnostic and immunity testing programs on campus, and it’s coordinating with Johnson County Public Health on contact tracing efforts — which would allow the campus to take a systematic approach to quelling the potential spread by reaching out to individuals who unknowingly had contact with an infected person.

The university is looking into technology support for contact tracing, and it’s attempting to get on-campus and current addresses and contact information for all students — to ensure timely communication in its contact-tracing efforts.

By monitoring local infection rates and transmission among students, faculty, and staff, the campus aims to identify potential outbreaks in groups and locations, along with other trends. UI will have campus testing available, according to its plan, and it will provide isolation and quarantine space for COVID-19-positive students and close contacts.

Classroom experience

The university — like many college campuses across the state and nation — is offering a hybrid model of instruction this fall, while “prioritizing face-to-face instruction.” Combining online and in-person instruction will allow the university to maximize use of its larger classrooms while also following social-distancing guidelines, officials said.

To that end, the university will deliver all courses of 50 or more students online, although exceptions might be made if online instruction isn’t feasible.

It’s prioritizing in-person instruction for classes with fewer than 50 students, and it’s considering requiring assigned seating in classrooms to help with contact tracing.

“University classrooms will be outfitted with additional cameras and audiovisual equipment to enhance the educational experience,” according to the fall plan.

Because administrators believe in the importance of creating connections for first-year students, it’s prioritizing in-person instruction for first-year seminars; rhetoric and other English and creative writing courses; world languages; discussion and lab sections for math and chemistry; and other general education discussions — like for social sciences, diversity and inclusion; and values and culture.

Residence and dining

Although the university traditionally offers triple and quad-occupancy rooms, it will limit assignments to only single and double rooms this fall — while taking other measures to reduce density and support social distancing.

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It will, for example, reconfigure or close common spaces — like lounges; limit visitors and guests to one at a time, with mandatory face coverings; and reserve space for emergency use, like the need to quarantine or isolate students.

In its dining halls, the university will move to touchless payment; discontinue self-service options; eliminate refillable containers; encourage online ordering and add pickup locations; limit seating and move tables farther apart; install physical barriers to minimize contact with staff; and adopt employee screening measures.

Vulnerable populations

Campus community members who are high-risk for contracting or becoming severely ill from COVID-19 can reach out to UI deans or human resource officials to request special accommodations like working or completing coursework from home.

High-risk students, faculty, and staff also can ask for isolated workspaces, like a single office or physical barrier; or they can request to participate via virtual technology in meetings, discussions, or events, for example.

Facilities and buildings

As for other building-specific changes across campus, the university is looking at installing plexiglass barriers and touchless door openers; rearranging furniture for better social distancing; limiting occupancy; designating enter- and exit-only doors; and using signage to create one-way traffic flows.

The campus is ramping up cleaning and disinfecting procedures, especially for high-touch surfaces, and adding hand sanitizing stations at the entrance of every building.

Libraries

University libraries are preparing to reopen to faculty, students, and staff Aug. 17 with new procedures and amenities that include contactless transactions, physical barriers, sanitizing stations; reduced seating; curtailed hours; and socially-distanced work stations.

Additionally, returned materials will be quarantined for a period of time.

Training

The university is developing online training related to new health and safety practices for students, parents, and employees.

Student training will cover expectations for personal protective equipment, social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting, and personal health monitoring.

Parent training will cover steps the campus is taking to limit COVID-19 exposure, student expectations, and how families can support the university efforts.

Employee training to go over policies and procedures — and they too will be asked to acknowledge and agree with the training.

Cambus

As the Cambus will continue operate, all drivers will be required to wear face coverings, with buses cleaned twice a day. Drivers will be screened for symptoms at the start of ever shift, and riders will be required to board and exit the buses using the rear doors.

Student clubs and organizations

UI administrators are developing guidance for student groups that will, among other things, require gatherings of 50 or more to be held virtually; organizers to offer hybrid opportunities; and leadership to produce videos and content for incoming students looking to get involved at Iowa.

Recreational services

The university is planning for a July or August opening, but with an array of changes — including closed saunas and steam rooms and socially-distanced climbing walls and running tracks.

Equipment checkout and towel rental will be unavailable until further notice.

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Social distancing measures will be employed for in-person programs, activities, events, and equipment use.

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

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