Education

University of Iowa warns of potential reassignments, staffing changes

Iowa's public campuses dealing with tens of millions in losses

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top l
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (The Gazette/file photo)

IOWA CITY — After the University of Iowa vowed in March to keep employees whole through the end of the semester — despite its sweeping response to COVID-19 that largely shut down the campus and cost it millions — administrators Monday warned of potential changes in “future staffing needs.”

Those changes could include reassignment for staffers in positions now lacking “meaningful work.” Others could be asked to use paid vacation leave or take unpaid leave, according to the UI “pay practices update” that highlighted steps the campus took to protect its community early on.

Among other things, the university moved to virtual rather then in-person instruction, refunded students who were forced from residence halls and kept employees on their existing status through the semester’s end — costing the tens of millions.

“With the semester ending and the university facing $70 million in losses due to the pandemic, the university must return to regular pay practices on May 18,” according to the message. “As a result, each college and unit will be working to understand potential changes in enrollment and making decisions about future staffing needs based on projections.”

Iowa’s other public universities — Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa — also have suffered deep financial hurt from COVID-19 and took steps to mitigate the impact. In April, for example, ISU President Wendy Wintersteen asked all campus units to impose a 5 percent budget cut for the upcoming fiscal year and plan for another one in fiscal 2022.

“In addition, there will not be a performance-based compensation increase for faculty, (professional and scientific) staff, post docs, and contract associates on July 1,” she wrote April 20.

The UI announcement that it will return to “regular pay practices” next week is a reference to a March 27 message from UI President Bruce Harreld in which he acknowledged that “many Hawkeyes, particularly students, are worried about their income during what is already a stressful time.”

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With that in mind, Harreld committed to keep paying all UI employees through the end of the semester — which wraps with graduation this weekend — including hourly employees and student hires unable to continue working.

Under the new guidance Monday, contract extensions and faculty hires will follow regular processes — depending on a college’s academic and research needs.

Those categorized as professional and scientific or merit staff members — including administrators, secretaries and facilities employees, for example — could be asked to accept redeployment or to use paid vacation time, among other things.

“If meaningful work is not available for a current position, employees will be asked to register for the temporary redeployment pool and accept redeployment when offered, use paid vacation leave or comp time (if applicable), or request unpaid leave,” according to the UI message.

UI employees unable to work because they’re sick from or caring for a loved one with COVID-19 will receive extra paid leave and have their jobs protected. UI Health Care — encompassing the UI Hospitals and Clinics operation — will issue more specific guidelines for its employees.

ISU phased return

News of changes in employee pay comes as the regent campuses are planning phased returns to campus — including at ISU, which this week expects to release more guidance on how its colleges, departments and other units can “safely gear up their campus operations” this summer.

The first phase of a return to campus — largely vacated starting in March — will begin June 1 and include the return of a “limited number of employees” who have been working remotely.

The return to campus will not equate to a return to normalcy, as those coming back must comply with new infection control strategies and guidance — including social distancing measures and personal health monitoring.

Supervisors must give employees two weeks’ notice before requiring they return to work on campus. And they should allow for rotating schedules — mixing remote and on-campus work — to accommodate social distancing needs in limited work spaces.

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Administrators have asked supervisors to work with employees who have extenuating needs — like child care challenges or being in a group at higher risk for health concerns.

As the campus blinks awake, buildings that have been shuttered since March will require facilities attention — including resuming ventilation systems and flushing pipes — in addition to regular cleaning.

And in a message about the coming guidance from Wintersteen, she noted employees can wear face masks or coverings and should continue to limit in-person interaction — opting for virtual meetings and phone calls if possible.

ISU also is looking at resuming research on campus, with more guidance expected May 18.

All three of Iowa’s public universities are expecting to be back on campus by the fall semester — although they’ve kept summer courses online and acknowledged a return likely will come with major caveats.

“While it is not expected that all risk can be eliminated,” Wintersteen said, ”we must work together to monitor, evaluate, and adapt to mitigate that risk.”

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

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