Student governments urge University of Iowa to move to virtual learning

University of Iowa student governments wrote a letter to campus administrators urging them to move classes online for the fall semester - set to begin in a little more than two weeks.

The+Old+Capitol+is+seen+on+Thursday%2C+March+12%2C+2020.

Jenna Galligan

The Old Capitol is seen on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Sarah Watson, Executive Editor

University of Iowa student governments  are urging campus administration to shift all non-essential in-person learning, activities, and events to a virtual format for the fall semester.

“We cannot, in good conscience, support in-person classroom learning and full opening of residence halls in the Fall 2020 semester amid our current environment,” according to the letter sent by the undergraduate and professional student governments to UI President Bruce Harreld and Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Kevin Kregel, dated Tuesday. That same day, 280 faculty members pledged to teach their courses online and asked the university to transition online.

“No student should be on campus unless absolutely necessary, especially when virtual learning options are accessible and efficient,” the letter stated. Student government leaders sent the message campus-wide Friday – notifying more than 30,000 students of the letter sent to administrators.

“A return to in-person learning, as planned, even using a blended learning strategy, acts as an invasive choice constraint given that three out of every four UI students are concerned about contracting COVID-19 on campus this semester,” the letter stated, citing a July 27 student survey.

Students in the residence halls are set to begin move-in the week of Aug. 17 at the UI, and classes are set to begin Aug. 24.

The state Board of Regents had said as early as April that the state universities were planning for an in-person fall semester after Iowa’s state schools shifted to entirely virtual instruction in March. The UI, along with the other three public universities, is set to begin a hybrid fall semester prioritizing in-person instruction.

“Throughout the summer, we have kept our fingers crossed in hopes that we could safely return to in-person learning this month,” the letter stated. But, student leaders said the rise in COVID-19 cases in Iowa and Johnson County made returning to campus an “alarming prospect.

RELATED:University of Iowa students won’t be tested for COVID-19 before moving into residence halls

The letter noted, too, that COVID-19 disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minority groups.

“We would be remiss to not highlight this important intersection given the immense progress the University of Iowa needs to make toward diversity, equity, and inclusion—a need amplified by the Black Lives Matter movement and activism by university students, staff, and faculty,” the letter stated. “Acknowledging these disparities, virtual learning and virtual engagement could mitigate the continuation of this inordinate impact on the lives of students who identify as Black, indigenous, and/or persons of color.”

In an email from Anne Bassett, she said with more than 30,000 students and thousands of faculty and staff at the UI, opinions very regarding how campus should operate for the fall semester, and that the administration “has been and will continue to be in direct communication with shared governance leaders regarding concerns.”

“The 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),” she wrote.

This is a developing story, check back for updates.

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