COGS to continue promoting classroom “e-pivot”

The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students has encouraged instructors to move their classes online for the first two weeks of the spring semester to combat rising COVID-19 cases. The union will continue to take collective action and stay online for as long as they see fit.


Meg Doster

Members of COGS protest the lack of mask mandates on campus at the Pentacrest on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

Kate Perez, News Reporter

The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students is taking “collective action” by continuing to push for an “e-pivot” — a request for University of Iowa instructors to voluntarily move their classes online indefinitely, without university permission.

The original pledge created on Jan. 14 called for an e-pivot for the first two weeks of class. Now, COGS has suggested instructors decide on their own basis how long they want to teach remotely.

Although no official statements have been made by COGS regarding the continuation of e-pivoting, COGS member and doctoral student Caleb Klipowicz said it is still a concerted effort made by all members to take their classes online.

“Many people are having to weigh the decision between two threats to them: their health and the health of their students, or their career,” he said. “This being a collective action isn’t dependent on every single person being able to make the decision to take it online, but it’s a call for everyone to have the right to do so.”

Klipowicz said there is no official timeline for when the e-pivot efforts by COGS will conclude.

“Right now, we haven’t made any official statements on the amount of time,” he said. “The original and still standing e-pivot pledge is really for as long as folks feel is comfortable and safe, contingent upon case numbers.”

Instructors who move their classes online without permission from the university are violating university policy.

Currently, if instructors want to move their classes online, they must request a modality change through a new formSpecific guidelines are provided at the college level, according to guidance from the provost’s office.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences website states that one of these justifications for moving lab or discussion classes must be met:

  • 50% of enrolled students are listed on the Instructor Student Absence Report.
  • The course instructor is positive for COVID-19 and well enough to teach and needs to isolate or quarantine following the CDC guidelines. (If the course instructor is not well enough to teach, please see guidance on instructor absence).

Classes that require equipment, like lab and studio courses, are not eligible to be moved online.

COVID-19 cases among UI students and employees are higher this semester than they were at the beginning of the fall 2021 semester. From Jan. 17 to Jan. 21, the UI reported 275 cases among students and 257 among employees.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, UI Assistant Vice President for External Relations Jeanene Beck wrote that not many instructors have asked to move their classes online.

“The Office of the Provost shared that they have had a few requests to move courses online and have approved a few that met the criteria outlined in the spring guidance provided,” Beck wrote. “For context, the University of Iowa has more than six-thousand class sections this spring, so the number of requests is minimal.”

Hannah Zadeh, COGS member and graduate teaching assistant in the department of sociology and criminology, said they had to request to move online through the modification form after being exposed to COVID-19.

“I did [use] the form because that is what the university decided that they wanted us to do,” Zadeh said. “Because COGS is obviously launching this concerted action, collective action for teaching assistants to teach the first two weeks online, that was, for me, my plan anyway to do that, as well.”

After submitting the form, Zadeh said they got an email from their department chair communicating that UI Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Cornelia Lang said Zadeh’s justification for moving classes online could not be used.

“They said that the justification was unacceptable and that I had to take a COVID test. If my COVID test was positive, I had official permission to teach next week online,” Zadeh said. “And if not, then I would have to go in person. They did say that I was allowed to teach this week online while I got a test.”

COVID-19 tests have been hard to obtain, Zadeh said, adding that they were waiting for one to be mailed to them while teaching online.

Klipowicz said, COGS will continue to push for stronger COVID-19 policies and the right for instructors to move their classes online if they want to.

“The plans put out are not prevention plans, they’re a plan for crisis, if nothing else,” Klipowicz said. “It’s not about stopping cases anymore. It’s about normalizing them and keeping things going as usual — which we’re saying, that’s not right.”

Klipowicz said while he thinks the state Board of Regents and UI administration are concerned about making the college experience as normal as possible for students, the current COVID-19 policies are making it worse.

“You are the ones that are making this harder for students to get the education that they deserve and are paying for,” Klipowciz said. “You’re the ones that are making it harder for instructors who are just trying to do their job. Now they have to deal with this whole other question of ‘Will I be punished for trying to do my job safely?’”

Editors Note: In a previous version of this story the link to the University of Iowa’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the justification of moving online was to a page from 2020. The Daily Iowan regrets this error.