Staff Editorial

The University of Iowa is playing a dangerous game

The Old Capitol on campus at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Saturday, May 16, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
The Old Capitol on campus at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Saturday, May 16, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

The University of Iowa has come under fire for its plan for continuing school in-person during the fall semester.

The plan stipulates that classes of 50 or more will be held online. While classes of fewer than 50 will be held in rooms where social distancing is possible. Additionally, the university fired 15 faculty from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Instructors who have health concerns have voiced their fears to the administration, and in one instance the response from Dean Steve Goddard was that they should seek therapy.

In an open letter to students, several university faculty called out UI for its plan, accusing officials of sacrificing the lives of faculty for the bottom line of the administration. They state, “The faculty who teach these classes are the lowest-paid, the most vulnerable, and — as the administration has just signaled — the most disposable.” The letter calls for clarity of the plan and transparency in the back-to-school process.

Conducting college in a safe manner during a pandemic is a complex problem that balances a university’s need to keep up enrollment with the lives of students and faculty. Right now, the UI is engaging in a game of chicken with the fall semester — careening headlong toward it, hoping that the pandemic and the illness and death associated with it won’t be as bad as the financial loss they could incur should they lose students. It’s a dangerous game, and one being played without transparency or oversight.

The UI needs more transparency on the firing of faculty, while it continues to hire deans with salaries in excess of $300,000. While firing faculty whose contracts are up for renewal makes the most sense when it comes to lawsuits, the reality is it targets vulnerable faculty who are critical in maintaining relationships and connections with students.

There’s been little evidence of strategic prioritization of the academic programs most important to keeping the UI strong in the extremely competitive higher education market. Now, the lack of a framework leads to knee-jerk decisions when the economic situation worsens.

Additionally, Johnson County already is seeing a rise in cases of COVID-19 because o a lack of social distancing among young adults, who are heading en masse to open bars and restaurants.

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This early warning is a harbinger of things to come if the UI persists in its plans to continue with classes as usual. The UI has not communicated plans for testing or contact tracing, which will be critical components of controlling the virus’s spread this fall.

If there are alternate precautions and plans, the UI needs to communicate them right now, while students still are deciding whether they should come in the fall, and not hide them until the students are already here. UI President Bruce Harreld and the regents are shifting responsibility for the safety and welfare of the UI community and the state of Iowa on the backs of faculty, who are forced to expose themselves and their family to a deadly virus, all in the name of education.

We don’t have to play this game. Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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