‘We’re preparing for everything,’ University of Iowa president says of plans to resume campus operations

After an unprecedented semester of disruption from COVID-19, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld discusses what the future holds for the university.


Katina Zentz

UI President Bruce Harreld answers questions during an interview with The Daily Iowan in the Adler Journalism Building on Monday, December 9, 2019. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld said in an interview with The Daily Iowan Wednesday that the university is considering several potential solutions to address how to safely resume campus operations, especially for the upcoming fall semester, amid COVID-19. 

“We’re preparing for everything,” Harreld told the DI on Wednesday. “Our plan of record, as we have said for many weeks, is to be open in August as we normally would… Any other scenario you can imagine, including all online, including some hybrid — some online [and] on campus with massive social distancing in classrooms… All of those are options.”

Harreld said the university would not rule out any solution at this time. He said there is also the possibility of students and professors wearing personal protective equipment while in classes and conducting testing for the novel coronavirus or antibodies.

He said the university has a team of community members who are working to ensure the UI makes the best decision in the fall to keep students safe. 

“We have a Crisis Incident Management Team that meets every day for two hours made up of all members of the campus community … who are helping us try to anticipate all these scenarios,” he said. “The answer is I don’t know [what will happen in the fall] and we are planning for all scenarios.” 

In a university-wide email sent Wednesday, the UI said the team is currently focusing on how returning employees will remain safe. The UI said they are concentrating on ensuring proper accommodations will be made for UI hospital workers with parking and transportation as well as purchasing personal protective equipment and additional work by UI facilities management.

According to the email, the UI’s focus will be in health and safety procedures, classroom sizing and scheduling, IT support, HR policies, facilities management, finance/budgeting, and research. 

The UI also said it’s focusing on creating a process for employees so they can return to campus safely. The email said any employee diagnosed with the coronavirus should stay home for 10 days after they experience symptoms or 72 hours after they no longer have a fever, whichever is longer.

The UI said that through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the university’s Student Financial Aid Office has grant funding of $8.3 million available to UI students to help with financial difficulties that were a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Students can apply for the funding online

Harreld told the state Board of Regents on April 30 that the university will face around $76 million in expenses and lost revenue through August because of its COVID-19 mitigation efforts. 

“First and foremost, our guiding principle in our decisions has been to keep people safe,” he told the DI. “… We’ve done whatever we needed to do and then we said later we’ll figure out the fiscal damage. That’s where we are now… We’re looking at all financial alternatives we have.”

Harreld said the university will receive funding from the CARES Act, as well as some of the $44 million given to Iowa from FEMA for protective equipment for the university and UIHC. Because the federal aid will not cover all of the losses, Harreld said the university is looking toward alternative solutions.

The Iowa Legislature is currently not in session, Harreld said, so the university is uncertain about how much funding will be alloted to the university. 

“Freezes, salary reductions, it’s all on the table,” he said. “… We will do everything with the foremost focus on campus, students, faculty, and staff safety. Then we’ll have to make decisions and if they cause fiscal issues, then we’ll have to go through all the actions you can imagine to remedy this.”