As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Iowa, tensions are rising between the University of Iowa administration and faculty members.
On Wednesday, Sept. 2, UI faculty and students are planning to “call in sick” due to high rates of COVID-19 in Iowa and on campus. The “UIowa Sickout” social media campaign demands for all University of Iowa instruction to be moved online.
For the fall 2020 semester, 76 percent of undergraduate learning is being held online.
Executive Vice President and Provost Kevin Kregel sent a statement to UI faculty and teaching assistants on Tuesday, encouraging them to continue with their instructional duties instead of participating in the sick out.
“I respectfully remind you that as role models, you have an obligation to deliver instruction as assigned, and to provide appropriate notice of absences due to illness,” Kregel wrote in his email.
During a virtual UI Faculty Council meeting on Tuesday night, Professor of Marketing Gary Russell said that he feels a lack of transparency from the UI administration.
“Things seem to be falling apart,” Russell said.
Russell says that considering the expectations given to UI faculty to be able to teach online and in-person at the same time, UI President Bruce Harreld has not listened to UI faculty’s concerns of the virus.
“The president has been saying that we need to give the students a choice, but by doing that, he’s not giving the faculty and the TA and Ph.D. students a choice. In some cases, whether or not to show up,” he said.
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Faculty Senate President, Joseph Yockey said he hopes that the faculty and administration can find a way that does not disadvantage his colleagues or UI students.
“I think that it needs to be approached with great caution. I think it could have adverse employment consequences,” he said.
During UI’s planning to reopen this fall, the Critical Incident Management Team developed processes to reduce the risk of COVID-19.
UI Professor of English Loren Glass said that the university’s efforts were ill-prepared to reopen campus.
“The upper administration is losing credibility on this issue by the events that are happening,” he said. “‘I think there’s been a total lack of transparency here recently. I think this sick-out is a symptom of a larger problem.”
Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery Lillian Erdahl said that she thinks the UI needs more contact with Harreld in order for things to be transparent during a pandemic.
“I think that we need communication with the president to say people are frustrated. We need more listening sessions, we need more communication, and we need more support,” she said. “All of the universities reopening are going to have these issues because they have students moving on and off campus and around each other.”
Glass said he wouldn’t advocate for a sick out, but understood the reasoning behind it.
“I don’t advocate a sick out, but I understand why people would want to do it,” Glass said.