President Wendy Wintersteen helped the Faculty Senate usher in the new academic year, opening with a few remarks at its Sept. 15 meeting before answering senators' questions.
Wintersteen addressed faculty concern over transmission of COVID-19 in classrooms during in-person instruction. She pointed to the results reported on the university COVID-19 testing data site, now updated three times a week.
"We are cautiously optimistic as the number of cases and the positivity percentage at Iowa State has declined for a second week," she said. "We are trying to get more information out as quickly as we can."
Wintersteen highlighted the low percentage of quarantine cases that turn into positive cases requiring isolation, and the relatively few positive tests among faculty, staff and graduate assistants as signs that classroom transmission is low.
Wintersteen and senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert said many parents and students have told them they want as much in-person experience as possible. However, some faculty expressed concern about teaching in-person classes among an undergraduate population that has a higher rate of COVID-19 positivity.
"As a faculty member, I am feeling in the dark right now," said senator and Virtual Reality Applications Center director Eliot Winer. "A lot of what we have done is reactionary, and I am asking for transparency in the decision-making process so we can be more proactive. It is hard to feel safe."
Wintersteen also addressed comments made by athletics director Jamie Pollard in a Sept. 4 memo about pandemic-induced financial challenges, including the lack of fans at home football games. One of Pollard's recommendations was closing Stephens Auditorium.
"Budget issues are real and they impact us all, but I am hopeful we can all get back on the same page," she said. "I think that is happening, and (on Sept. 14) Jamie Pollard directed the ISU Foundation to begin a campaign in support of Stephens Auditorium."
Allowing fans to attend athletic events -- particularly football -- is a fluid situation as university leaders continue to monitor the positivity rate in Story County and discuss options, Wintersteen said.
The senate will vote next month on three changes to its bylaws to comply with the Faculty Senate constitution:
- To be eligible to serve as an officer or council chair, nominees must be elected senators at the time of nomination.
- Senate officers cannot represent a caucus on any senate council or committee. They can attend meetings, but are not allowed to vote.
- Senators can serve no more than two consecutive senate terms, including the department or college at-large level or combination of the two.
Senators approved a proposed graduate certificate in breeding for organic crops. The four-course, 12-credit certificate will be delivered online by the agronomy department, which already offers an online master of science program in plant breeding.
Wintersteen began her comments by remembering faculty member Pat Thiel, who died Sept. 7. Thiel, Distinguished Professor in chemistry and in materials science and engineering, was elected a fellow of the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences in 2019. A celebration of her life will be held on campus Sept. 18.