Winter session could be here to stay

If all goes well with the upcoming special winter session, it could become a regular option for ISU students, senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert told the Professional and Scientific Council at its Oct. 1 meeting.

Wickert said some surveys have shown significant interest from students, who can take up to four credits during the largely online Dec. 14-Jan.21 session announced last month.

"It would be my hope that it is a successful pilot, and it would be something we could think about having on a more permanent basis," he said.

The decision to offer a winter session was driven by the unusually long two-month break this year between the fall semester's end Nov. 25 and the spring semester's start Jan. 25, dates adjusted due to coronavirus precautions. But the University of Iowa and numerous private colleges have long offered students the opportunity to take a class between semesters, and it's worth looking at in the future even after the pandemic passes, Wickert said.

The timing of the fall and spring semesters likely would need to shift somewhat to offer a winter session every year, he said. That potentially could be coordinated with the other state Board of Regents universities, as Wickert said the board is considering establishing common semester schedules among the institutions.

Iowa State’s winter session planning committee is reviewing the more than 50 courses that colleges suggested -- classes previously taught in the summer at least partially online -- and will release in the coming days a list of what will be offered, Wickert said. Registration for the winter session is Oct. 26-Nov. 14.

Budget update

Barry McCroskey, the council's vice president for university planning and budget, said a recent meeting of senior budget leaders was more positive than he expected, as tuition revenue is higher than estimated and interest was strong in the retirement incentive program open for applications through March 1.

The cost of the Aug. 10 derecho brought some unexpected expenses, however. The severe wind storm caused about $800,000 in damages on campus and $700,000 at ISU research farms, McCroskey said. Combined cleanup costs on campus and at farm facilities were more than $300,000, he said.

Benefits update

Possible changes to the health insurance plan were among the budget-balancing measures announced this summer, and those adjustments were announced in an Oct. 7 campus message from President Wendy Wintersteen, senior vice president for operations and finance Pam Cain and vice president for university human resources (UHR) Kristi Darr.

P&S Council president Sara Parris, who sits on the university benefits committee that provided senior leaders recommendations on benefits, said the committee members had a clear consensus on what changes to propose. Employees have time to consider the changes before the benefits open enrollment period. UHR benefits director Ed Holland told the council open enrollment will being in November.

Holland also highlighted four new programs or benefits UHR had a hand in delivering:

  • A new distance learning support and child care program for the elementary-school children of students, faculty and staff will open in Ross Hall Oct. 12. It will launch with a capacity of about 40, but Holland said space is already identified to allow the program to handle as many as 100 children, if needed.
  • A new voluntary retirement savings plan is available as of Oct. 1.
  • In an expansion of time off policy, employees can use up to 80 hours of sick time off Sept. 1-Dec. 31 to help their children manage required remote learning.
  • The ISU Plan prescription medicine insurance policy now covers vaccines administered at pharmacies, which means employees and their family members on the plan can receive their flu shots at retail locations.

Student affairs leaders

The division of student affairs welcomed two new leaders this summer. Senior vice president for student affairs Toyia Younger, started on the first day of the fall semester, Aug. 17. Associate vice president for student affairs and dean of student Sharron Evans began working virtually in May and on campus in July.

Both Younger and Evans spoke to the council to introduce themselves, give an overview of their work and discuss what students are facing during the pandemic. Younger said despite the reduced enrollment and campus density, significantly more students are seeking assistance from student wellness and counseling this fall. 

While perhaps not ideal, developing a new leadership team during a time of crisis hastens bonding and cooperation, Younger said.

"I can't say enough about how our team has jelled so quickly," she said.