Hundreds of UI employees call for stricter COVID-19 mitigation measures

With less than two weeks until the first day of classes and the delta variant of COVID-19 fueling a rise in cases, UI faculty and staff have raised concerns about the future.


Katie Goodale

The Old Capitol building is seen on March, 6, 2021.

Caleb McCullough, Executive Editor

A petition signed by hundreds of University of Iowa staff and faculty calls for vaccine and mask mandates on campuses governed by the state Board of Regents, saying morale is “at an all-time low” as the school year approaches amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

The letter, written by Rachel Marie-Crane Williams, the department executive officer in the Department of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, calls for the regents to mandate masks and mandate or strongly incentivize vaccination on campus and allow more online options for instructors.

The letter noted faculty with children under 12, who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, are facing a difficult decision as the more contagious delta variant fuels a rise in cases around the country.

“Like everyone I am deeply concerned for the welfare of our faculty, students, and staff, especially those with children under the age of 12 or household members who are immunocompromised or elderly,” the letter says.

Other recommendations for the regents to institute at Iowa’s public universities include:

  • Bring back alternative work arrangements for faculty and staff
  • Charge unvaccinated students, faculty, and staff an extra health fee, or give vaccinated students a tuition discount and vaccinated employees hazard pay
  • Allow instructors to meet with classes over zoom regardless of size

In March, the university announced it would end its Temporary Alternative Work Arrangement program, which allowed employees who were in high-risk populations or had household members in high-risk populations to conduct their work off campus.

In an email to the Daily Iowan, regents spokesperson Josh Lehman gave no indication that the regents plan to institute a mask mandate on campus. He said the board is hoping to give students a return to a traditional education in the fall semester.

“This includes in-person coursework and other campus opportunities at levels similar to prior to the pandemic,” he wrote. “We will continue to evaluate as we move forward.”

The regents have the authority to require masks to be worn in campus buildings, but a law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds in May prevents them from requiring vaccinations on campus, according to the regents’ reading.

Williams said in an interview with the DI that she wrote the letter because she heard concerns from colleagues with young children and concerns about the university’s lack of mitigation measures going into the fall semester. The petition has amassed nearly 500 signatures from faculty and staff as of Wednesday afternoon, she said.

“The other thing that’s kind of remarkable, is we are out of step with the rest of the Big Ten,” she said. “We’re out of step with what other universities around the country are doing.”

The UI is the only Big Ten university to not require masks on campus this fall, as reported by the Press-Citizen.

Loren Glass, the department executive officer for the Department of English who signed the petition, said he has a 9-year-old child who will be going to school without vaccine or mask mandates while he will be teaching in person at the UI.

“I actually feel that my child’s health is being put unnecessarily, and indeed criminally, at risk,” he said. “I think the state is failing its citizens.”

If the regents can’t require vaccinations, Williams said, they should offer strong incentives to encourage students to get vaccinated. She said other schools that can’t require vaccinations are using larger incentives like scholarships and football tickets.

During the spring semester, the UI offered $10 Iowa City Downtown District gift cards to students who got vaccinated on campus or showed their vaccine card at the Iowa Memorial Union.

“We could still do a heck of a lot more than we’re doing to incentivize people to get vaccinated,” she said.

Lehman said the regents want to see as many people vaccinated as possible and they will continue to strongly encourage vaccines for campus communities.

“They are widely available, including on our campuses, and we will continue to stress the importance of being vaccinated,” he wrote.

Faculty Senate addresses President Wilson

In a letter on Aug. 10, UI Faculty Senate leadership made similar requests of UI President Barbara Wilson. The letter, signed by Faculty Senate Past President Joseph Yockey, President Teresa Marshall, and Vice President Ana Rodriguez-Rodriguez, encouraged Wilson to consider stronger vaccine incentives on campus, and questioned the regents’ decision to not implement a mask mandate.

“The campus incentive plan is to offer students a $10 gift card in exchange for proof of vaccination. That’s it,” the letter says. “Unlike our peer institutions, we are not offering incentives like scholarship lotteries or additional health fees for the unvaccinated.”

The letter stated the university is going against CDC guidance and the majority of the Big Ten Conference in declining to require masks on campus.

“[W]e’re not epidemiologists nor public health experts. However, access to those experts is readily available on our campus, and the UI should explain how the current mask approach will—or will not— sufficiently protect our community,” the letter says.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include the Faculty Senate’s letter to President Barbara Wilson.

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