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University Of Iowa Student Governments Ask School To Go Primarily Remote This Fall

Tony Webster
Flickr Creative Commons
University of Iowa student governments are asking the school to switch to primarily remote instruction this fall, saying they can't support a return to campus under current coronavirus conditions.

The University of Iowa Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate and Professional Student Government say they cannot support in-person learning and the reopening of residence halls this fall under the current coronavirus conditions.

The groups explained the position in a joint letter addressed to UI President Bruce Harreld and Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Kevin Kregel, which went out in a mass email to students Friday morning, according to the message, which was shared with IPR.

“We ask that the University of Iowa move all non-essential in-person learning, activities, and events to a virtual format. No student should be on campus unless absolutely necessary, especially when virtual learning options are accessible and efficient. Simply put, virtual learning should be the rule and not the exception until COVID-19 can be controlled effectively and continuously,” the letter reads in part.

The groups point to a persistent increase in coronavirus cases in Iowa, including among young people, and a survey showing that 75% of University of Iowa students are concerned about getting the virus on campus this fall.

They also point to projections from a coronavirus risk assessment tool developed at Georgia Tech that estimates there is a 66% chance that at least one COVID-19 positive person will be present in a class of 50 students, the upward capacity limit that the University of Iowa has set.

The students note that they “deeply miss” their traditional classroom experiences and on-campus life, but are troubled by risks of further transmission, brought on by the return of thousands of students to Iowa City in a matter of weeks.

The request echoes previous concerns from faculty, including statements earlier this week from UI instructors more than two hundred of whom signed a pledge to provide "only safe, high-quality online teaching".

In a written response, Director of Media Relations Anne Bassett said the university is working to provide “choice” for students, faculty and staff, while operating within public health guidelines.

“We value the feedback of our students and faculty. With more than 30,000 students and thousands of faculty and staff at the UI, opinions vary regarding how our campus should operate for the fall semester,” Bassett’s statement reads. “Our goal is to provide as much choice and certainty as possible to our campus community while aligning with guidance from; the Board of Regents, State of Iowa; the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH); and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

Under the university’s current plans, students will not have to be tested for the virus before returning to campus later this month. Testing will be available “to identify symptomatic cases and to test close contacts” of those confirmed to have COVID-19.

Under university policy, everyone on campus will be required to wear a face-covering when inside, unless alone in a private office. The city and county also have face-covering mandates in place for all indoor public settings, and outside when social distancing isn’t possible, with some exceptions.

According to a running tab of college reopening plans across the country maintained by The Chronicle and Davidson College, 24 percent of schools are restarting the fall primarily online, 4.7 percent fully online, 21 percent primarily in person and 2.5 percent fully in person.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter