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Faculty And Students Express Concerns Over Safety, Communication As Universities Begin Classes

Luis Rico-Gutierrez
Kylee Haueter, Iowa State Daily
Students attend an outdoor class in masks at Iowa State University.

Classes have resumed at each of the state’s three Regents universities – a welcome return to structured learning for many students and faculty who found their spring term suddenly interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even so, this semester already looks significantly different from terms that have come before, with a new web of online and in-person classes and new pandemic policies leaving some professors and students anxious.

“The students are excited to be back in class and to commune and share space with each other. However, it is a bit overwhelming when delivering lessons because we have a Zoom open for kids in quarantine while teaching the in-person class,” says a psychology teaching assistant at the University of Iowa, who wished to remain anonymous to protect their job and their instructor. “The day before classes began in person, I had about eight students tell me they couldn't come to class because they were waiting to be tested [for COVID-19], notified about being in close contact and in quarantine or feeling symptoms. That's over 10 percent of my students in person.”

Carissa Froyum, a professor of sociology and Vice President of the United Faculty union at the University of Northern Iowa is teaching her full course load in person this semester, which is a teaching style she generally prefers to online teaching. She says she appreciates the safety and health plans implemented by the university and finds her students adapting well to a socially distanced learning environment. But she says she believes there’s room for improvement, starting with making online teaching available to all staff members who ask for it.

“Right now, our default is that faculty are teaching in person unless they have a medical issue, and it’s clear to me that that approach doesn’t allow enough flexibility for faculty, who are the ones who know their students and their teaching and their situations the best,” Froyum says. “I think, actually, we should have an opt-in to the in-person teaching approach rather than an opt-out approach.”

On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by faculty from Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa for a look at the reality of teaching at the college level in a pandemic. Dr. Dan Dikema, director of the Division of Infectious Disease at the University of Iowa also joins the conversation to reflect on the relationship between college communities and the spread of COVID-19.

Later, student journalists from The Daily Iowan, Iowa State Daily and The Northern Iowan join the program to reflect on covering COVID-19 on campus while navigating their own pandemic experiences.


  • Carissa Froyum, professor of sociology and vice president of United Faculty-AAUP at the University of Northern Iowa
  • Rachel McKenny, assistant teaching professor in the departments of English and Speech Communication at Iowa State University
  • Dr. Dan Diekema, director, Division of Infectious Disease at the University of Iowa
  • Emma’le Maas, executive editor, The Northern Iowan
  • Sarah Watson, executive editor, The Daily Iowan
  • Kylee Haueter, news editor of student life, Iowa State Daily


Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Matthew was a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa