Iowa regents consider policy change to give president emergency-authorization authority

The state Board of Regents announced Thursday that a policy change to its manual, pending approval at a telephonic meeting on March 17, would enable the regent president to declare a state of emergency at regent institutions, amid rising concerns about COVID-19.


Lily Smith

Regents President Mike Richards listens during the state Board of Regents meeting at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls on Friday, November 15, 2018.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Editor

The state Board of Regents announced Thursday that it will hold a telephonic meeting at 11 a.m March 17, to discuss emergency preparedness according to Iowa Code, as well as consider changes to the regents’ policy manual that would authorize the regent president to declare a state of emergency at regent institutions.

According to regent documents, the regents will hear and potentially approve emergency authorizations that would allow the regent president the authority to determine a state of emergency exists at regent institutions because of circumstances that threaten the immediate health or safety of persons or property.

“The Board of Regents has a need to prepare for the management of unexpected events affecting the operations of the institutions under its jurisdiction,” the documents state. “Board approval of new section 1.1.E, Emergency Authorizations, is requested to enable the president of the Board of Regents to respond promptly to emergency circumstances.”

The meeting and policy-change announcements come amid rising concern about novel coronavirus and its spread in the community as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iowa rose to 14 by Wednesday — with 13 in Johnson County. 

Regent President Mike Richards said in a statement Tuesday that the state’s three regent institutions should “move as quickly as possible towards the ability to deliver instruction virtually.”

The University of Iowa announced Wednesday that it will suspend in-person classes for the two weeks after spring break, from March 23 to at least April 3. 

“We urge students to make a choice, their choice, about the best place they can stay for their personal health and safety during this period of time,” UI Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz told reporters Wednesday.

RELATED: University of Iowa to move classes online for two weeks after spring break amid coronavirus outbreak

The proposed change to the regents’ manual would authorize the regent president to take actions necessary to protect people and property at affected institutions, which could include the suspension of all or any portion of the regent policy manual, according to regent documents.

“The president shall seek Board of Regents ratification of any actions taken pursuant to this subsection at the earliest practical time,” the documents state, “but in no event later than the next regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Regents.”

The board also announced Thursday that its upcoming meeting in April will move from an in-person to online format because of the development of COVID-19. 

Although there will be no public comment because of the change, an Iowa State University room will be open for public citizens to come listen to the meeting, which will be live-streamed on the regent website.

For more coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, click here.