Opinion | Our educators are concerned, and rightly so

UI educators have raised concerns about our COVID-19 protocols, but the response from administrators is questionable at best.


Grace Smith

Signs encouraging students to wear masks in classrooms are seen on the doors of the English-Philosophy Building at the University of Iowa on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.

Sophie Stover, Opinions Contributor

Professors are concerned about the University of Iowa’s COVID-19 guidelines for the upcoming semester, and rightly so. Comparing our protocols to other schools amid the nationwide surge of the delta variant, they have good reason to be worried. The fall 2021 COVID-19 plans include optional vaccinations and masking, but every other school in the Big 10 Conference is requiring at least one, if not both.

The UI has not directly addressed the questions or concerns of educators who made public statements, and even went so far as to attempt to implement a “gag order” regarding COVID-19 speech in the classroom.

In the first draft of the fall 2021 FAQ for instructors, educators were barred from making any statement about mask usage, unless in the context of a health-related curriculum. Considering the many free speech issues at the UI last year, it’s particularly odd and hypocritical that administrators thought this would be an acceptable policy.

Along with outcries from faculty members, hundreds of others signed a petition for stronger COVID-19 policies. We’re very clearly the odd ones out, so educators wrote to both the state Board of Regents and UI administrators to get answers.

They called on the regents to consider several policies, including a mask mandate, better vaccine incentivization, and fees for being unvaccinated, among others. A subsequent letter from UI Faculty Senate officers addressed to UI President Barbara Wilson on Aug. 10, asked for justification on how our current policies are adequate.

While the initial FAQ document for faculty has been amended to remove the ban on discussing mask usage, the attempt by the UI to implement it was extremely problematic in and of itself. Not only have our professors’ concerns been ignored, but the UI attempted to stifle their voices as well.

However, the UI has shown a troubling lack of response toward faculty and their concerns regarding COVID-19 protocols. The faculty is simply asking for a proactive approach to safety this fall, as well as insight into how our current plans are sufficient.

I take issue with how the UI has responded to their reasonable requests.

In a press conference on Aug. 16, Wilson confirmed that the UI does not plan on changing any COVID-19 protocols, largely brushing off suggestions from the faculty. She instead said, “We’re really going to rely on people’s ability to think about the collective.”

This statement feels reminiscent of when Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she trusted Iowans “to do the right thing” back in February. Did Iowans do the right thing? Some did. Will the campus community think about the collective? Some will.

As for the faculty inquiry into how our current guidelines are appropriate, Wilson did not address their question. She mentioned that the UI will be monitoring hospital rates and outbreaks on campus, but never answered how our current policies will adequately protect the UI community. This should be a simple question to answer if the UI truly believes we’ve put sufficient safeguards in place.

While some decisionmakers feel that individual responsibility is our key to a safe semester, Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz, a professor in communication studies and gender, women’s, and sexuality studies, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that the UI needs to step up its COVID-19 policy.

“Universities across the country are acting accordingly — they are mandating face coverings and vaccines to protect the health and lives of their students and communities. It is long past time for Iowa to do the right thing,” Fixmer-Oraiz wrote.

If the UI is unwilling to reform COVID-19 guidance, our faculty is at least deserving of the answers they’ve requested.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.