Iowa lawmaker introduces bill to require in-person graduation at Iowa’s public universities

A bill that was recently introduced in the Iowa legislature would require Iowa’s public universities to host in-person commencement in the summer of 2021. The bill would also allow guests to attend the ceremony



Rep. Bobby Kaufmann speaks during the opening of the 2021 legislative session on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. Legislative goals for the session include further tax cuts, expanding in-person learning, and moving towards economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sabine Martin, News Reporter

Commencement ceremonies at Iowa’s three public universities could be held in-person if a Republican-backed bill makes it through the Iowa Legislature.

If the bill, introduced this week, clears the arduous legislative processes, it would scrap plans at the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa to do virtual commencement ceremonies in May.

Pre-pandemic, commencement ceremonies drew thousands of people — family members and friends of graduates — to Iowa City from all over the world. Advocates for in-person ceremonies say public universities could modify ceremonies to put people at less risk.

The bill instructs all public universities to allow, at minimum, two guests per student for a commencement ceremony.

Rep. Carter Nordman, R-Adel, chair of the bill’s subcommittees, said students should have in-person graduation because they are accommodating to the university’s protocols for safety and education procedures during the pandemic.

“They deserve an in-person graduation,” Nordman said. “I do believe an in-person graduation is doable based off of what we know about this virus, how to mitigate this virus, and the fact that there are going to be widely available vaccines by May.”

Iowa expects to open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to every Iowa adult by early April, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced last week, but it could take much longer to actually get enough people vaccinated to significantly reduce infection rates.

In a campus-wide email sent to the UI community in February, the university wrote that its decision to move the commencement ceremony online was to maintain the health and safety of the entire campus community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know how much these ceremonies mean to our students and their families,” the campus email stated. “The university is committed to honoring our graduates and celebrating their achievements in a way that allows for participation from friends and family virtually.”

Iowa State University has not yet announced plans for graduation ceremonies.

All three universities held virtual graduations in May 2020.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton.

Nordman said he hopes the bill will begin the discussion with the state Board of Regents-governed public universities about looking at safe ways to hold in-person graduation.

Regents Senior Communications Director Josh Lehman wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that the regents will follow the bill if it moves through the legislative process, but he didn’t say whether the regents would support or oppose the bill.

Lehman wrote the regents will “continue to work with the legislature on all issues related to higher education.”

UI President Bruce Harreld told the DI in a December interview that commencement would most likely be virtual because of the time it takes to plan.

“We need to plan and that’s got a lot of things that we have to videotape and get all together,” Harreld said. “If we get all of that together, we can then throw it away and have a live one relatively easy. I hope that’s where we end up.”

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