Spring semester will start two weeks later, with no break week

Iowa State will push back the start of the 2021 spring semester by two weeks and eliminate spring break to help make up for the delay, President Wendy Wintersteen announced in a Sept. 14 campus message.

Rescheduling the first day of the spring classes to Jan. 25 will allow more time to pass after the holiday season, when gatherings with friends and family pose a risk of transmitting coronavirus, senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert told the Professional and Scientific Council at its Sept. 10 meeting. It also lowers population density on campus for two months during the seasonal flu season, when the simultaneous spread of influenza and COVID-19 will heighten health concerns.

Senior leaders formed the plan in consultation with college deans, department chairs and representatives of the P&S Council, Faculty Senate, Graduate and Professional Student Senate and Student Government, Wickert said. The semester will end at the usual time in May, providing the normal transition time before the summer semester sessions.

The adjustment shortens total instruction time by about a week, about the same slight reduction as the fall 2020 semester, which began a week early and ends the day before Thanksgiving. The calendar complies with all institutional accreditation requirements, Wickert said.

Wintersteen said in her campus message that spring classes, as they are this fall, will be delivered in four modes: in-person, hybrid, online and by arrangement. Classrooms and lectures halls will have similar capacity limits this spring, and health protocols and mitigation measures -- including required face coverings, targeted testing, self-reporting, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation -- will continue.

"Our objective is to provide in-person learning, particularly for experiential courses, labs and studios, while also providing flexibility for students and instructors who are more comfortable with virtual classes," she said.

The two-month break from the end of the fall semester to the start of the spring semester creates an opportunity for an optional five-week winter term of instruction, and plans are being developed to offer a selection of online classes. Details about the winter term, planned for Dec. 14-Jan. 21, will be released in the coming weeks, Wintersteen said.

New system set to launch

Emma Mallarino Houghton, director of classification and compensation in university human resources, presented to the council and answered questions concerning the new classification and compensation system for P&S staff.

The overhauled job classifications and new market-based pay ranges go live Sept. 20. Classifications were shared with staff this summer. Supervisors of staff with a salary within their new range were notified in emails this week. Supervisors were notified last week if an employee they manage is among the 9% of P&S staff paid more than the maximum or less than the minimum under the new system. No salaries will change immediately due to the revamped classification and compensation structure, but the 6% of staff who make less than the low end of their pay grade must receive a raise to at least the minimum by Oct. 1, 2021.

Just shy of 300 of about 3,200 P&S staff will be newly classified as nonexempt under federal labor law, meaning they will need to begin tracking their work hours in Workday Sept. 20. A total of 390 P&S staff are nonexempt, Mallarino Houghton said.

Responding to a council member concerned about staff who have experience and education far beyond the minimum requirement for their newly classified positions, Mallarino Houghton said minimum qualifications for some positions were lowered with an eye toward inclusivity. The intent was to remove artificial barriers to university jobs, she said. The lower qualification requirements do not reflect negatively on employees who hold those jobs, and education and experience beyond the minimum requirements should contribute to an employee being paid higher within the salary range for their position, she said.

Busiest day ever

Vice president and chief information officer Kristen Constant, in an update about information technology services, said the first day of the fall semester marked the busiest day on record for the Solution Center, even more than when Workday launched in summer 2019.

Heavy volume from students accounted for the spike in service requests, with students submitting about two-thirds of the 7,111 tickets in August. That likely was driven in part by students being less able to learn about new systems from their peers, Constant said.

Priorities set

After a first reading at August's meeting, council members approved their strategic initiatives for 2020-21. The priorities include:

  • Representing P&S interests as university leaders consider additional temporary cost-reduction measures
  • Advocating for solutions to COVID-19 concerns that impact P&S staff, such as flexible work arrangements, mental health support, flexible parking agreements and accessible resources
  • Advocating for meaningful supervisor training that covers basic ISU fundamentals, such as Workday processes and human resources policies managers need to know
  • Recommending communication to help P&S staff understand the new classification and compensation system, with a focus on employee rights, working titles, compensation structure, market equity and career progression