Opinion | The UI needs to lighten up on online learning restrictions

Compared to other Big Ten Schools, the University of Iowa lacks in precautions


Kate Heston

Photo Illustration.

Signe Nettum, Opinions Contributor

During the holidays this past break, I saw an infographic circulating on Instagram about what precautions the Big Ten schools were taking to combat COVID-19 this upcoming semester. The University of Iowa sat at the bottom, with x’s across the whole board.

There were zero mandates on COVID-19 requirements, and no explanation as to how the university was going to protect students coming back to campus.

Due to the limitations of mandates and state law, the UI and state Board of Regents have been limited in what they can enforce. There’s nothing except some take-home tests and the hope that students or staff members will self-report if they do catch COVID-19.

Some other colleges and universities have pivoted online for the first two weeks of classes, but the UI has resumed in-person classes as “normal.”

The UI needs to be lenient on class policy and allow instructors to have easier access to online teaching, especially as omicron continues to spread through the Midwest following holiday travel. If we cannot implement mandates, the administration needs to give professors more support.

For professors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, there are two ways to move their classes online — except for labs or studio formats, which aren’t allowed to make the pivot. Either the professor has to get COVID-19, or over 50 percent of the class has to contract the virus — which the instructor can only know through self-reporting.

Waiting until an instructor gets sick or relying on an optional reporting system instead of preventing infection is not the way UI should protect those on campus.

To combat these dangerous circumstances, the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students, or COGS, has created the e-pivot pledge, which calls for instructors to move their classes online without university permission.

Professors should have an easier way to move online and are right to be worried because the current policy does not wholeheartedly protect them.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, Loren Glass, English department executive officer and president of the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors, expressed his disapproval with UI COVID-19 policy.

“​​I strongly feel that UI COVID policies are inadequate and that we should enact vaccine and mask mandates immediately and maintain them until the Omicron wave passes,” Glass wrote. “Please note that I’m still following the policies and notifying my faculty of them. I just disagree with them.”

The current policy does not enforce anything to fight against COVID-19.

“Face masks and social distancing are strongly encouraged where possible,” the policy reads. “The Board of Regents, State of Iowa has determined the public universities will not mandate face coverings and that classrooms and other campus spaces will operate at their normal (pre-pandemic) capacity.”

It’s heartwarming to see that KN95s have been offered this semester in various buildings for students and staff, but it feels like a band-aid covering up a wound that has already been festering and infected.

In the end, the UI needs to give the most important — and most vulnerable — group on campus leniency when it comes to COVID-19: instructors. Let them decide how they want to protect their classrooms.

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.