CORONAVIRUS

Iowa public universities suspend 'face-to-face instruction' for at least two weeks

Campuses will assess impact of coronavirus to see if online classes should be extended

The Old Capitol Building and Jessup Hall (left) on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on We
The Old Capitol Building and Jessup Hall (left) on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (The Gazette)
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Although all three of Iowa’s public universities announced Wednesday they’re moving to online education after spring break for an initial two weeks, they’ll continue to assess the impact of the novel coronavirus and determine whether to extend the unprecedented move.

University officials also said they’re reviewing campus events and deciding whether to cancel or amend plans for things like commencement ceremonies.

“We want to give fair warning for any of those that might either be discontinued or postponed or canceled well in advance,” said UI Vice President for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz.

Late Wednesday, Coe College in Cedar Rapids announced it was extending spring break, which starts after Friday classes, by one week, to March 29.

The suspension of face-to-face education across the regent system will begin March 23 and extend at least to until April 3, according to campus communication from the UI, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.

It’s the first time in recent history the campuses have made such a drastic move in response to a global pandemic.

“We are making this decision proactively to maintain the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and patients and in conjunction with the governor and Board of Regents, State of Iowa,” according to a message from UI President Bruce Harreld.

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ISU President Wendy Wintersteen in her message said the administration will “reassess the situation during the week of March 30.”

“The period of online instruction may be extended if conditions warrant,” she wrote. “We know how disappointing and disruptive this is to our students, faculty, and staff.”

DORMS STILL OPEN

Although the campuses are working with educators on how to best deliver the virtual education on a course-by-course basis, students are being allowed to stay home or return to their residence hall or off-campus housing.

“Residence halls and dining services will remain open, and we urge all students to make the choice that is best for their own personal health and safety,” the UI message said.

PENDING DECISIONS

UI administrators are evaluating how to handle the more interactive classroom experiences like laboratory or performance classes and “will provide specific guidance by March 20.”

ISU said its labs, studios, performance instruction, computer labs and other experiential learning sections won’t occur during the two-week suspension of face-to-face learning.

“Substitute assignments or makeup activities during or after that period will be at the discretion of the academic program,” according to Wintersteen.

All three universities said students should expect more communication from instructors.

UI Hospitals open

UI officials specifically noted that the UI Hospitals and Clinics will remain open — as will its wider campus, including library services, recreation buildings and athletics facilities.

ISU and UNI similarly said their campuses will remain open for “normal daily operations to the extent possible,” according to Wintersteen’s message — which promised more guidance for employees Thursday.

UNI PLANS

UNI, in its message, said all merit, supervisory and professional and scientific staffers should continue to report to campus during the two weeks after spring break — unless they’re feeling sick. Student employees, likewise, will be allowed to continue working their on-campus jobs.

“If a student decides to not work, their job will still be available when on-campus classes resume,” according to the UNI communication, which added, “internships, student teaching, and other off-campus learning experiences are not impacted.”

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All three campuses said essential support services like student health and counseling ices will remain open.

STUDENT REACTION

UI freshman Madison Kallio, 19, of Des Plaines, Ill., said she can handle a brief pause on in-person instruction but would have a hard time with any decision to cancel on-campus classes for the rest of the semester, which ends in May.

“For me personally that seems like it’s going to be really hard, especially as a first-year,” she said, flagging challenges with moving out of the dorms early and leaving new friends. “I just bid a sorority so I’m supposed to be initiated, but now that probably won’t happen if they cancel the rest of the semester.”

Although Kallio has taken an online class before and found it manageable, she prefers to take classes in person.

So does UI junior Juliana DeSouza, 20, who said she wants to know if the university will offer any tuition reimbursement for the period of online instruction.

“The cost of online school tuition, which is what my mom does actually, is like two grand a year in comparison to what we have to pay — so that’s a big deal,” DeSouza said, arguing for some money back.

GRINNELL, DRAKE

The announcement came a day after Grinnell College became the first higher education institution in Iowa to announce it’s canceling in-person classes for the rest of the semester and asking its 1,700 students to stay home after spring break.

Grinnell will conduct the remaining semester coursework virtually.

And Drake University said Wednesday it will, like the regent schools, suspend face-to-face instruction between March 23 and at least April 3.

Travel limits

The regents this week extended a ban on university-sponsored international travel until further notice, and the campuses encouraged students and employees to postpone personal, non-essential travel in the months ahead.

The campuses have brought home hundreds of students studying abroad in countries heavily affected by the virus — like China, South Korea, Japan and Italy — and halted others from leaving for spring break abroad experiences. Wednesday, the UI said it’s recalling 73 students studying in Spain, France and Germany.

A message sent to those students asked they return by Monday and, once they get here, self-isolate for 14 days.

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The students, who are studying abroad through a separate provider, should contact their programs for options to complete their coursework.

The university, like it has for others, asked those newly recalled to ask airlines to waive fees and program providers to help cover costs. The UI will help with reimbursement up to $500.

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

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