Editorial: Clearer communication needed from UI on coronavirus response

The UI and state Board of Regents need to do more to address the on-campus impact of COVID-19.

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DI Editorial Board

Updated:

The UI announced in-person classes will be suspended after spring break through April 3. Read here for more information.

It seems likely that the University of Iowa will shift to online-only classes for some length of time. Gov. Kim Reynolds confirmed Tuesday that Iowa has 13 presumptive positive cases of the coronavirus, and broad preparations are being made statewide to combat the spread of infection.

The state Board of Regents responded with a statement asking all three regent schools to move quickly toward delivering instruction virtually.

As of press time, the UI has not shared any official statement or agenda regarding how campus will decide to proceed. Though an announcement is expected by Thursday morning, the absence of a response has already caused confusion among the student body.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board calls for more decisive action from the UI administration for its plan for dealing with COVID-19 on campus.

While certainly there is a need to minimize panic, the UI’s silence since Sunday as higher-educaiton institutions shut down has left students trying to fill in the blanks themselves. 

A number of professors have reacted by individually shifting their classes to online format. Several on-campus students are now concerned about what this will mean for their housing status. There are thousands of lives in limbo because of the uncertainty the virus is creating. 

There are thousands of lives in limbo because of the uncertainty the virus is creating. ”

The potential ramifications of a university shutdown extend beyond the academic community. Many students pay their rent with earnings from on-campus jobs. The Iowa City economy itself is heavily dependent upon a vibrant campus.  

Clear direction from those in charge would go a long way in helping ease tension. The City of Iowa City has already released its public-health strategy. The UI needs to catch up.

A coherent statement from university officials would be reassuring to those affected by a potential shutdown. The number of Iowa coronavirus cases are likely to increase, so the UI student body needs a plan — and we need one now.

All UI courses potentially becoming online on relatively short notice will have several complex impacts for students. 

If classes are to be online, the question of whether all students can access the technology and internet necessary to complete assignments must be addressed. What’s supposed to happen with chemistry labs and dance classes? Enrollees need to know how to prepare.

If students will be encouraged to stay away from campus, UI employees still need the income to afford rent, groceries, and hygienic needs. This includes instructors, bus drivers, custodians, among many others.

Students must know what to expect in the remaining weeks of the semester before they travel. If students plan to stay on-campus for the break, this information is just as crucial for them.”

The UI also needs to acknowledge whether or not a shift from on-campus to online classes would change housing arrangements for students in residence halls. Given the public-health concern, knowing whether or not Student Health and Wellness on-campus locations will remain open is essential. Many students also rely on UI health-insurance coverage.

The timing of this needed statement is all the more imperative, as spring break is only days away. For those heading home — especially out of state — information about the future is needed as soon as possible, not the day before classes take a week off.

Students must know what to expect in the remaining weeks of the semester before they travel. If students plan to stay on-campus for the break, this information is just as crucial for them.

Some Iowa higher-education institutions, such as Grinnell College, have even gone to the lengths of requiring students to leave campus altogether. It also decided its coronavirus response would include conducting the remainder of the semester online.

This is not realistic for the UI. It would be unfair to the students who paid for a full semester of on-campus courses. Even if a partial refund was attainable, the logisitics of moving thousands of students out of residence halls seems daunting amid a health crisis.

There are over 30,000 students at the UI. Thirty percent of them are not from Iowa. Four thousand of them are international students from dozens of different countries. Making international students go home may be impossible in some cases because of travel restrictions. If the UI decides to follow Grinnell, this would potentially displace many. 

Potentially forcing students to become off-campus is not affordable for many, both academically as well as financially.

Of course, we don’t know if the UI plans to support student in any of these regards — and that’s the issue.

Until students currently have official information from the UI, we don’t have a plan.

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