University of Iowa faculty fall work guidelines to keep some online flexibility

As the University of Iowa prepares to return to nearly all in-person instruction in fall 2021, initial guidance directs college leaders to identify job tasks that can be done remotely or in a hybrid format that would benefit instruction.


Jeff Sigmund

Classroom 105 at the EPB- English-Philosophy Building 251 W Iowa Ave sits empty on Friday Aug. 28, 2020.

Sarah Watson, Executive Editor

University of Iowa faculty will retain some flexibility of working remotely this fall as the university looks to return to a primarily in-person residential campus.

The UI is encouraging some meetings — such as professor office hours, staff meetings, and professional development conferences — to be held virtually for flexibility and to boost attendance. 

The 25-member Future of [email protected] Committee released preliminary planning recommendations for university deans, vice presidents, and human resources leaders on Thursday, which directed departments to come up with guidance for hybrid or flexible schedules, and tasks that can be done remotely. 

“Establishing work arrangements — including work locations and schedules — is an important step forward for our employees,” Cheryl Reardon said, who is the UI associate vice president and chief human resources officer, in a press release Thursday. “The experience of the pandemic, along with technology and market trends, allows us to think more broadly about effective work arrangements and assess more flexible options.”

Last month, the UI announced it would hold all 150-plus student classes virtually and all classes of less than 150 people in person this fall.

The UI has been operating for the last three semesters with more than 70 percent of its undergraduate course hours online. 

A university survey conducted in April 2020 found that a majority of employee respondents — 59 percent — strongly agreed that they were open to a remote work arrangement one or more days a week after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

Another 26 percent responded that they “somewhat agree.”

In fall 2021, the UI won’t offer its employees Temporary Alternative Working Arrangements, which faculty and staff could apply for this academic year to teach their courses online if they or a family member were at high risk of developing serious illness from the coronavirus, among other reasons. 

Faculty with medical or other concerns will have to coordinate with Faculty and Staff Disability Services in the fall in lieu of applying for a Temporary Alternative Working Arrangement. 

Iowa is expected to open vaccine eligibility to all Iowans by April 5, though actually getting the vaccine to every adult will likely take months. 

President Joe Biden told the nation last week the U.S. would “mark our independence” from the virus by July 4. University and college faculty haven’t been included in the priority groups set by the Iowa Department of Public Health, and are not currently eligible to receive the vaccine.

UI faculty will also be expected to be on campus, and must consult with their department executive officer and submit a request if they’d like to work out of state. 

“We look forward to returning to an on-campus experience as much as possible in the fall,” said Lois Geist, the associate provost for faculty. “And that means faculty will be returning to in-person classroom teaching. Our students want to be on campus, and we’re excited to invite them back.”

The committee, which is led by University Human Resources and the Office of the Provost, asked departments to identify job tasks that would have a “strong pedagogical” reason, meaning it would benefit instruction, to continue online. 

The 25-member committee will bring its recommendations to top administrators in May, according to a UI press release. 

The committee recommended colleges and units complete steps — including organizing an implementation committee, planning documentation for remote or hybrid work, and establishing plans that promote healthy, safe, ergonomic remote environments — by May, and begin implementing recommendations by June and July. 

The UI established the 25-member Employee Experience Committee, now the Future of [email protected] Committee, in November.

Faculty and staff can submit feedback using an online form

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