University of Iowa denies COGS request to revamp COVID-19 safety measures

The University of Iowa denied COVID-19 safety precautions proposed by the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students. The demands included allowing instructors to teach virtually as often as they need and notifying instructors when students self-report positive test results.


Ayrton Breckenridge

University of Iowa graduate student Hadley Galbraith poses for a portrait at the Scott Boulevard UI Urgent Care on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. Galbraith plans to get the COVID-19 booster shot later this year.

Anthony Neri, News Reporter

University of Iowa administrators denied a request to implement three new COVID-19 safety procedures proposed by the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students.

COGS sent a letter on Nov. 18 to the administration, asking it to forgo what the collective described as, “the politicized ‘guidance’ of the Board of Regents” in favor of their requests, according to the letter.

The letter included the following demands to mitigate the spread of COVID-19:

  • Allow instructors to move their classes online as often as they see necessary because of COVID-19 concerns.
  • Notify instructors when students in their class test positive for the virus 
  • Allow instructors to inform students of possible COVID-19 exposures in the classroom. 

On the same day the letter was sent, three members of COGS shared personal stories concerning the risks they face at the UI under the current COVID-19 procedures at a meeting with Amanda Thein, UI associate provost for Graduate and Professional Education and Todd Rent, UI director of University Employee and Labor Relations. 

According to an email sent from Thein to COGS President Hadley Galbraith on Dec. 3, the UI administration will continue following recommended guidelines from Johnson County Public Health, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thein wrote in the email that the request to allow instructors to teach virtually for as long as they wish violates the state Board of Regents’ May 20 statement directing all regent institutions to resume in-person education to the same degree they did before the pandemic.

Both the request that the administration informs instructors when a student has self-reported having COVID-19 and that instructors be allowed to notify students of possible exposures “raise significant privacy concerns,” Thein wrote.

Caleb Klipowicz, a COGS member who was present at the Nov. 18 virtual meeting, said the UI had a system where instructors were notified if their students self-reported testing positive for COVID-19 last year. The system has since been halted. 

“In our meeting, the dean said that she gets alerts when graduate students self-report,” he said. “Obviously there’s a serious issue going on, and they’re just sort of papering over the gravity of the situation.”

Klipowicz said he wonders how it is a violation of privacy for instructors to receive the same information as the administrators, especially when instructors must come face-to-face with students in the classroom, increasing their risk of contracting COVID-19. 

Additionally, Thein noted in the email that Johnson County Public Health continues to employ contact tracing as a reliable and nonintrusive method of tracking the rate of student transmission. 

Students who test positive for COVID-19 are advised to fill out a COVID-19 self-reporting form, as noted in the Fall 2021 FAQ for Instructors, and to follow public health recommendations, she wrote. 

As of Dec. 3, there have been 399 student and 310 employee cases of COVID-19 on campus since Aug. 23, according to the UI website.

This is the second time the UI has denied to implement recommendations regarding COVID-19 procedures from COGS.

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, COGS filed a complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to protest unsafe working conditions at the UI on Sept. 21.

Galbraith said COGS dialed back the extent of their demands this time, understanding that vaccination requirements and mask mandates are blocked by the regents.

“We had thought that these were achievable demands that the university could put in place and so, it’s disappointing to see that they have reason that it’s not possible,” Galbraith said.

Klipowicz said COGS set out to request three changes that the university can do with their own authority and without regents’ approval. 

“At this point I should know, but it still amazes me just how committed our university’s administration is to doing absolutely nothing to stop COVID-19 and to make any effort to reduce the spread, basically impossible for all of us,” Klipowicz said.

Klipowicz said COGS members will be discussing their next steps in advocating for a safer workplace at a general membership meeting on Dec. 6.

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