In the Faculty Senate's first in-person meeting in 18 months on Sept. 14, university leaders spent more than two hours discussing fall planning efforts and the impact of Iowa House File 802.
Senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert acknowledged many faculty and staff still have concerns about their safety and the safety of their families during the pandemic. He emphasized that the university is following the guidance of the state Board of Regents.
Request to the regents
Faculty Senate officers Andrea Wheeler and Jon Perkins presented requests for safer classrooms to the state Board of Regents Sept. 15.
He noted small but important steps recently have been taken, including encouraging everyone -- vaccinated or not -- to wear masks and accommodations for immunocompromised faculty and staff to work remotely. Instructors who test positive for COVID-19 also can move classes online temporarily, if they are feeling well enough.
Although the university is unable to mandate mask wearing or vaccination, university counsel Michael Norton said a recent study at ISU showed 72% of in-state students are fully vaccinated.
"We are not able to do the same study for out-of-state students, but we have seen no evidence to suggest our out-of-state students would be any different," he said.
Frank Peters, chair of the university response team, explained that notifying instructors of positive COVID-19 results is not possible because contract tracing no longer is being done, as directed by the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Only COVID-19 tests administered at Thielen Student Health Center and self-reported positive tests are recorded. As of Sept. 12, 36 students have tested positive at the clinic; another 11 self-reported.
In another discussion scheduled into the agenda, senators expressed concern about House File 802 which prohibits public universities from conducting mandatory employee or student trainings that teach, advocate, act upon or promote 10 specific concepts defined in the law.
Senators asked why the university decided to extend the potential impact of the law from trainings into the classroom.
Norton said because the law is new and several key aspects are not clearly defined -- for example, what is a larger course of academic instruction or what constitutes a mandatory training -- it is difficult to determine its full scope. There have been at least two challenges on campus around trainings since the law passed, Norton said.
"The law says training, but it is undefined," he said. "It is our legal assessment that the risk to instructors that classwork will be deemed a training is greater the further it is from the germaneness of the overall topic. It is my responsibility as the legal representative of the university to point out that risk."
Norton said faculty members concerned about the law and their courses can contact his office for guidance. An FAQ on HF802 is posted on the provost's website.
In other business, senators approved updates to the Faculty Senate bylaws as part of the consent agenda. The changes included adding inclusive language.