CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa, Northern Iowa threaten suspension for partying students

'The actions of some students during their time off-campus is causing significant concern'

University of Northern Iowa students congregate last weekend in the College Hill district of Cedar Falls. UNI President
University of Northern Iowa students congregate last weekend in the College Hill district of Cedar Falls. UNI President Mark Nook said the universities will take action against students who fail to wear face masks and observe social distancing, saying their actions “put the entire community at risk.” (Photos provided to The Gazette by UNI student Isaac Vos; taken by UNI students Madi Barnhardt and Ben Thessen)
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IOWA CITY — After Iowa State University leadership last week threatened students with suspension following reports and images of off-campus partying, both the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa this week have done the same in the wake of similar behavior this past weekend.

A Tuesday message to UI students from the Student Accountability Director Angela Ibrahim-Olin warned student-health commitments related to COVID-19 — like social distancing and face covering requirements — pertain both to on- and off-campus behavior and that repeated violations could result in “severe sanctions,” like housing contract cancellation or suspension from the university.

“Individuals found to be engaging in behavior that the university has deemed unsafe, such as gatherings exceeding capacities where individuals are unable to maintain 6 feet of physical distance, gatherings where individuals are not wearing face coverings, and other factors that jeopardize individuals’ health and safety, may result in discipline,” Ibrahim-Olin wrote.

UNI: Irresponsible

On the UNI campus, President Mark Nook on Tuesday scolded students and threatened suspension in a message that struck a similar chord to one ISU President Wendy Wintersteen sent students last week, chiding them for “irresponsible behavior, including attending large gatherings or parties that violate physical distancing and face covering rules.”

Wintersteen threatened to ramp up discipline, including suspension, and Nook this week also warned students about the potential to be kicked off campus.

“We can and will take action to hold students who fail to fulfill our commitment to public safety accountable, which can result in suspension from the university,” Nook wrote. “We prefer to avoid a punitive approach, so we are appealing to your sense of community, of family. We are requesting your cooperation so that punitive actions are not needed.”

Nook was responding to images of students congregating in large numbers with little distance in and outside bars along the College Hill area over the weekend.

“The images from the past weekend showing members of our campus community outside local establishments without face masks and not social distancing are very concerning and disappointing,” Nook wrote. “Ignoring public health guidelines puts the entire community at risk.”

He acknowledged many students wear face coverings and follow distancing guidance — per a commitment and acknowledgment form they signed requiring they do so.

“Unfortunately, the actions of some students during their time off-campus is causing significant concern about our ability to maintain the health and safety of our students, employees, and the surrounding communities,” Nook said. “We know this is a communitywide problem, but we each must do our part to maintain public health and safety.”

UI: Accountability

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld has focused on the community-accountability aspect of the problem, sending an open letter Tuesday night to local businesses scolding them for “your choices to disregard the proclamation from the governor” involving distancing requirements.

“These actions have led to an increase in the transmission of COVID-19 in our community, and we, as a community, will now have to respond,” Harreld wrote. “I am imploring you to adhere to the governor’s proclamation.”

Stressing he’s been “exceedingly disappointed in some of the downtown Iowa City businesses,” Harreld said their ability to crack down on distancing requirements will affect the university’s ability to continue with in-person instruction.

“Your decisions will directly impact the university’s ability to honor the choices our students made to be in our community and on our campus. Our students want to be here. The university wants them here and the university knows how to keep them safe,” he wrote. “Please help them stay here by doing your part.”

All three campuses spent the summer and millions of dollars preparing to bring tens of thousands of students back for a hybrid semester amid a pandemic — prioritizing in-person learning but supplementing with online instruction.

All three are offering COVID-19 testing to symptomatic students and employees, and those who’ve had close contact with a positive case. Only Iowa State required students to get tested before moving in to the residence halls.

Iowa State has identified hundreds of positive cases through its testing efforts — requiring positive individuals to isolate and those they’ve contacted to quarantine. The UI this week reported more than 100 students and employees tested positive in the first week.

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UNI has not yet reported COVID-19 campus numbers, but a spokesman said they plan to later this week.

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

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