Senior leaders: Plan on returning to campus offices by August

In anticipation of a fall semester that's as close to pre-pandemic "normal" as possible, faculty and staff should make plans to return to their campus offices in August -- Aug. 2 for staff and Aug. 19 for faculty. President Wendy Wintersteen and senior vice presidents Jonathan Wickert (academic affairs), Toyia Younger (student affairs) and Pam Cain (operations and finance) shared some early thoughts for fall in an April 19 memo to all employees. By fall, the health risk to ISU employees and students should be significantly less, they wrote.

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"We feel confident that the increased availability of the COVID-19 vaccine and appropriate health practices will make it possible for faculty and staff to perform their work safely at their regular campus workplaces," they wrote. In-person instruction will be the default this academic year.

In a separate April 19 memo to faculty, Wickert noted the flexibility faculty have always enjoyed in their work schedules will continue. Virtual meetings, he wrote, are appropriate for activities such as research collaboration meetings, seminars and departmental and committee meetings -- and may improve both attendance and work-life balance. He encouraged faculty to meet students in person for activities such as office hours, academic advising, team-based projects, thesis committee meetings and supervision of their grad assistants.

Getting there

Senior leaders noted that the timing of the memo is intended to give employees and their families time to plan for the new expectations. Faculty and staff are invited to ask questions about the changes during the next town hall with senior leaders on Thursday, April 29 (1-2 p.m., via Webex). They also encouraged employees to talk to their supervisors with any unit-specific questions about returning to campus.

Senior leaders said several changes will support the transition:

  • Updated university guidelines for mitigating COVID-19 in the workplace will be shared this summer.
  • While it won't conclude this summer, the process of developing university policies for flexible work arrangements, which began in 2019 and continued during the pandemic, is expected to wrap up this fall. Until a new program is announced, supervisors shouldn't implement any flexible work arrangements.
  • Requests to work remotely beyond Iowa borders once again will require approval from the appropriate senior VP and Wintersteen. A "significant and compelling business reason" must be demonstrated.
  • COVID-19 Alternative Work Arrangements expire June 30 and won't be offered for the 2021-22 academic year. Options for remote work include existing leave policies and disability accommodations for conditions recognized in the American with Disabilities Act (see ISU's Reasonable Accommodations for Employees and Applicants disability policy).

In his memo, Wickert said the past year's practice of "double teaching" courses -- both in person and online for different groups of students -- was appreciated but not sustainable, and instructors should plan to return to the prepandemic teaching mode for each course. Changes to those prepandemic formats will be limited and must be requested by June 1 and approved by the department chair and associate dean.

Stay tuned

Senior leaders said more information will be shared this spring and summer as decisions are made. The Moving Forward Coordinating Committee is collaborating with the university's COVID-19 working groups to prepare the campus community for a fall semester that more closely resembles 2019 than 2020.

"Every member of the ISU community plays an important role in supporting our students and advancing our teaching, research, and extension and outreach programs. We can't wait to see you back on campus!" they concluded.