Senate leaders take COVID-19 concerns to regents

Faculty Senate leaders took faculty concerns about COVID-19 protocols to the nine members of the state Board of Regents Wednesday afternoon. The board held its September meeting at the ISU Alumni Center.

Addressing the board during the public comment period, president Andrea Wheeler (architecture) and president-elect Jon Perkins (accounting) shared some outcomes of the board's policy that prohibits a mask mandate on the three regent university campuses.

Wheeler talked about the importance of authority in a classroom, not just for establishing objectives and learning, but as necessary to build "the spirit, energy, joy and happiness of the classroom."

Noting that faculty have weathered 18 months of a pandemic, she said "students have borne the brunt of that, and they need our help.

State Board of Regents meeting recording, Sept. 15, 2021

(Public comments begin at 6:00:30)

"They need my pedagogical skills and they need my authority," she argued.

"I'm asking the Board of Regents to give instructors full authority in their classrooms to require masks, for pedagogical and health reasons," Wheeler concluded.

Perkins told board members that faculty are afraid of exposure to COVID-19, and he asked for greater clarity in the board's decision-making process on COVID-related policies.

"The perceived risk and uncertainty brought on by the lack of vaccine and mask mandates at ISU has caused fear in the minds of numerous faculty members," Perkins said. And some believe the board failed to "meaningfully reduce the risk to faculty" of COVID-19.

He said some faculty also are frustrated they aren't consulted during the decision-making process as the board sets COVID-19 policies. He encouraged board members to be more transparent -- both about the processes they use to arrive at decisions, and also "what it might take in terms of increased infection rates, etc., for the board to change its stance."

As is his standard response, board president Mike Richards thanked them and noted "this is a time to listen." As a rule, board members don't respond to comments presented during the part of their meeting designated for public comment.