Sophomore biology major Hannah Schwichtenberg (standing), who works as a tutor for the Academic Success Center, leads a weekly organic chemistry help session Monday in a collaboration room at Parks Library. Members of the study group (l-r) are animal science students Lauren Tidgren, Nina Campbell, Krista Schutter and Adrienne Allen.
In response to a March 10 prompt from the state Board of Regents, Iowa State instructors will teach their courses online Monday, March 23, through Friday, April 3. The two-week period comes on the heels of spring break week, and it could be extended if concerns remain about protecting students and university employees from the coronavirus.
The universities of Iowa and Northern Iowa announced similar instructional plans Wednesday covering the same time period.
Senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert told members of the media March 11 the change impacts lectures, discussion sections, seminars and similar activities held in a classroom. Labs, studios, performance instruction, computer labs and other hands-on formats won't meet, he said, and each academic program will decide what to offer as substitute assignments or make-up activities, whether during or after the two weeks.
"We are very confident we're making the best decision -- and the right decision for Iowa State --by putting the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff as our overriding priority," he said, adding that it's consistent with current best practices in higher education.
Assistant vice president for student health and wellness Erin Baldwin reiterated that there are no reported cases of the COVID-19 disease yet in Story County, including on campus.
On March 10, the state Board of Regents also extended its 30-day ban on university-sponsored international travel by seven days each Monday, until conditions improve. The board left domestic travel decisions to the three regent universities, though its recommendation is to "avoid areas with high numbers of identified cases of COVID-19."
Wickert said online learning specialists in the colleges and the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) have begun to help faculty migrate their courses to online formats. He invited students whose homes aren't equipped for them to participate in online classes to use the nearest ISU Extension and Outreach office. Offices are in all 99 counties and equipped with high-speed internet. Laptops may be checked out from the university library and some colleges, he added.
Iowa State is open
The university isn't closing for two weeks. Specifically, Wickert said student services -- such as student health, student counseling, academic advising, career services -- will be available. A number of dining locales will be open and residence halls and apartments will stay open to students who register online with the residence department by March 18. The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center, both at the College of Veterinary Medicine, will remain open.
Baldwin said all merit, supervisory and professional and scientific employees should come to work during the two-week period unless they're ill or receive other directions.
Baldwin encouraged faculty, staff and students who are on campus during the two weeks to avoid community spread of COVID-19 by limiting in-person meetings to essential university business -- and meeting in large rooms so participants can sit farther apart from each other.
Restrictions on large events
To reduce incidents in which larger crowds gather on campus, chief of police Michael Newton said case-by-case decisions are being made about events scheduled for campus venues. Some events already have been canceled, including ISU Research Day (March 24-25), the state science and technology fair for middle school and high school students (March 26-27), lectures program events (through April 10), indoor high school track meets (March 16-17) and campus visits for prospective and admitted students (through April 6). Friday's Cyclone gymnastics meet at Hilton won't be open to spectators. He said decisions haven't been made yet about commencement and new student orientation in June.
"It comes down to remembering that our No. 1 priority is the safety and health of our students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus. Balancing that relative to continuity of operations, we're evaluating those large events on a case-by-case basis with that philosophy in mind," Wickert said.
Emergency operations plan is working
Newton said the university's "robust" emergency operations plan was activated in late January when three students studying in China were summoned home due to concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak in that country.
In addition to a central coordinating team, the plan's effectiveness, he said, relies on close collaboration with the senior leadership team and the distribution of labor -- hours and hours of labor -- to working groups. One of those is a large gatherings working group, currently cataloging the next two months of large events and discussing options with their organizer(s).
To date, there are 11 campus working groups involving dozens of employees. The first working groups started meeting in late January; the most recent activated last week. Each team is studying options and developing solutions to actual or potential interruptions to "business as usual."
Emergency response working groups
Ensure continued course instruction if the university must suspend classroom meetings.
Coordinate preparation, response and recovery with city, county and state healthcare, public safety and government entities.
Finance and logistics
Identify financial impacts to university of necessary changes. Develop plan for purchasing critical resources if supply chain disruptions occur.
Manage public health aspects of the university's preparations for, response to and recovery from a COVID-19 outbreak.
Coordinate self-isolation for students who must live on campus, and develop plans for COVID-19 exposure or infection in the campus residence community.
Develop and distribute policies for employee accommodations, absence policies and related issues.
Inventory upcoming large events on campus and develop guidelines for canceling or modifying them that is consistent with CDC and Iowa Dept. of Public Health updates.
Share timely, accurate updates with the campus community and other audiences
Develop plan to continue essential research functions.
Coordinate early returns for study abroad groups and develop plans to keep students academically "whole" when their program is canceled.
Share guidelines to prevent employee infection, and monitor availability of personal protective supplies.
An FAQ released this week by university human resources (UHR) answers many common questions about how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect Iowa State employees. It was updated March 12 with additional information about working remotely, managing student employees, hiring, university child care centers and health insurance coverage for COVID-19.
To the extent possible, Iowa State will remain open and continue normal operations during the online instruction period planned for March 23-April 3, the two weeks following spring break. An extension of the online instruction period will be considered the week of March 30.
Employees with a fever more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit and a cough should not come to work and should take the following actions:
- Notify your supervisor you are ill and will not be able to work
- Isolate yourself to limit potential exposure to others
- Seek medical advice from your primary care provider, but call ahead first
The FAQ, which will be updated as the situation evolves, addresses questions about job assignments and expectations, leave policies, child and family care, and numerous other issues. There are sections for employees and for supervisors.
New information added March 12 shares how Iowa State is adjusting coverage under its employee health insurance plan to ensure employees and their families have access to needed medical care. Wellmark will waive prior authorization requirements for covered services related to COVID-19, and appropriate diagnostic testing for the virus will carry no cost-share.
UHR also urged employees to consider ordering a 90-day supply of any maintenance prescription via Express Scripts' mail order service and to take advantage of Wellmark-covered virtual doctor visits through Doctor on Demand, a benefit added to ISU health insurance at the beginning of 2020.
Several of the answers added March 12 pertain to remote work arrangements. Employees are expected to report to work as usual when the university is open unless they have prior approval from their direct supervisor, but UHR encourages managers to be flexible with employees who request to work from home temporarily. Included in the updated FAQ are links to documents that outline guidance on remote work during the online instruction period and provide remote work tips for employees and supervisors.
Detailed guidance about hiring searches and managing students employees also was added. Hiring managers should consider delaying or extending until mid-April job posts for positions that aren't mission-critical. For new hires, they should consider aligning start dates with the resumption of on-campus classes.
The FAQ update also announced that The Comfort Zone, an on-campus child care center for children who are mildly ill, is closing for the rest of the semester, under the guidance of the Iowa Department of Public Health. It plans to reopen in the fall. The university's other on-campus child care centers are expected to remain open when campus is open.
Iowa State's COVID-19 webpage is updated continuously with information about how the university is responding to the pandemic.
Meetings are underway between human resources delivery teams and division/college leaders to link professional and scientific (P&S) employees into job titles in the new P&S classification and compensation structure. That process will conclude by the end of March, and then employees -- or their supervisors -- may request a review of their new classification title if they think it's inaccurate.
Inside asked Emma Mallarino Houghton, director of classification and compensation in university human resources (UHR), to provide some insight and help set expectations about the process.
Q: Tell us about the new P&S classification and compensation structure.
The new structure currently has 569 job titles in 29 job families. Each title reflects both the primary functions of the job performed and one of three levels of responsibility: management, individual contributor or support contributor roles. Employees can use the level guides to see how their job might progress. Our former P levels are gone, replaced by 15 pay grades which are based on market data. Pay grade no longer is synonymous with a P level. Pay grade is influenced by both the responsibility level and primary functions of the job.
The strength of the new structure is that job titles more accurately reflect the work employees are doing, and the compensation framework reflects the market value of that work. It gives UHR and managers a better tool to identify any issues of internal equity or market equity.
Q: What is our "market?"
The president and senior vice presidents decided that we'll use a blend of higher education and industry markets, depending on the job family. It could be one or both. In light of the relative low cost of living in Ames and central Iowa, we are targeting the national median, which will help us be more competitive not just locally, but nationally. For more information on this topic, watch the March 13, 2018 seminar (from the P&S Council seminar series). This and other resources are on the class/comp review website.
Save the date
Q: How will you link employees into the new structure?
First of all, central UHR staff won’t. We asked HR delivery staff to work with college and division leaders to determine the process that makes the most sense for their areas; they'll decide how deep into their management chain they want to go. So, leaders from the department level to the division level will make the job-linking decisions for their employees. The HR delivery staff will provide coaching, as needed, to make sure the job framework stays intact.
If local leaders want assistance narrowing things down a bit, we completed a preliminary linking of all P&S employees. But they don't have to use it. It's very important that local leaders --who know best what their employees do -- make these job title decisions.
This initial process in March is the first step. In April, employees -- or managers on behalf of their employees -- can ask questions, get clarification or ask for a review of the original decision.
Q: What will change for P&S employees in the new structure?
- In most cases, your job title. For some, your new and old job titles may look similar, but foundationally they're quite different because the current and new systems are so different.
- With your job title, you'll receive a job description that includes examples of tasks performed for that job title. This is a high-level description, and all 569 of these will be available to the university community in time for the review process in April. The current system's position descriptions, specific to an individual employee, no longer will be used to classify positions. Questions about your position description, now known as the position description and responsibilities (PDR) document, can be directed to your HR delivery team.
- A new pay grade associated with your assigned title. The new pay grade will more accurately reflect the market for your job.
- Some P&S job titles will become nonexempt. Any time we review positions, we are required by federal law to review for exemption. Legal staff still are reviewing exemption status for titles, and we don't know yet how many employees will be impacted.
Q: What won't change?
- The work you do.
- Your supervisor.
- Your salary.
Q: What's the point of a new structure if no one's pay is improving?
The purpose of this review was not to raise salaries. It was to more accurately label the work P&S employees do and connect ISU jobs to what the market dictates for each job. Through that process, we expect to find where any inequities exist. Over time, managers will address inequities.
With any system overhaul of this magnitude, we have to take the long view, and the university’s budget constraints make that especially true. The new structure provides a framework of job classifications that people can understand. It lets us compare apples to apples so we can do our best to provide equal pay for equal work. And because it's tied to the market, the new structure lets us know for sure the market value of a job.
Finally, it creates a framework for career development; it gives employees a transparent pathway if they want to do something different. They can see what it would take to do that, and what the impact would be on earning potential.
Q: Employees' duties may have changed a lot since they filled out the job profile tool (JPT) in June 2017. Are those being used to assign employees to new job titles?
No. We're not looking at the JPT or even the current position description, because for too many employees, those aren't up to date, either. The conversation in meetings this month is about the work you do right now. If you've been misclassified for a while, now is the time to fix it. That said, we don't want to rob employees of promotional opportunities in the future.
Q: Will my supervisor help determine my new job title?
Yes. Whether they're part of the linking meetings in March, or they get involved in a review discussion in April, they will be involved. If managers don't agree with a job title decision for one of their employees, they can request a review.
Q: Will the developments with COVID-19, and the university's planning related to the virus, affect implementation of the new class/comp structure?
The situation with COVID-19 is rapidly evolving and we are monitoring the developments. Based on current information, we have asked HR delivery to continue with linking meetings as planned. We intend to continue moving through the next steps of implementation. At the end of March, we will check in on the overall progress of the linking meetings. Following our review, we may need to modify the current timeframe to ensure the process is moving forward effectively. We will continue to communicate with employees as new information is available.
Q: When will I learn my new job title and pay grade?
We will share more information about the timeline for job title and pay grade after our March 31 assessment of the job linkings supervisors have completed.
As senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert addressed questions about COVID-19 during the March 10 Faculty Senate meeting, the state Board of Regents released a statement that altered his message.
"Following spring break we are going to move away from face-to-face instruction at Iowa State University, and we will be moving to online instruction in everyone's courses," Wickert announced.
The change will begin Monday, March 23, and continue for a two-week period, with a reassessment during the second week to determine if it will be extended.
"For classes that meet in a classroom setting, a lecture format, a recitation format or seminar format, we will move to an online format," Wickert said. "For laboratories, studios, small-group music instruction, those type of things will be canceled."
The academic continuity team is working through challenges for classes conducted online. The 11-member group has representatives from across campus, including faculty, the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), information technology, international students and scholars office, and the registrar's office.
Currently, 63% of spring semester classes are on Canvas, the university's learning management system. CELT also has aids for instructors to move courses to Canvas and help plan for online instruction.
Offices remain open
Although face-to-face instruction will halt, faculty and staff will continue their work on campus.
"The university is open, and services will be provided," Wickert said.
Senators asked numerous questions and made suggestions that Wickert collected to be addressed as planning moves forward.
Wickert acknowledged the large amount of work needed to make the transition, but said the health and safety of everyone is the top priority.
"The action we are taking is one I am very comfortable with," Wickert said. "It is not something anyone wants to do, but in my heart I really believe it is absolutely the right thing to do."
Are your websites digitally accessible?
About 20% of the United States population has a temporary or permanent disability, but nearly 70% of all U.S. websites are inaccessible to people who experience disabilities, digital accessibility coordinator Cyndi Wiley told senators.
Wiley has partnered with various groups around campus, including student accessibility services, and stressed that providing information to those in need benefits the entire university.
"Staff, faculty and students experience daily barriers when working toward educational goals," Wiley said. "From inaccessible course materials to some inaccessible web content, these factors are greatly affecting student retention."
Wiley asked faculty to work with her when developing a game, app or website for teaching to ensure a strong user experience and digital accessibility. Wiley said she often can look at a website and know within a few minutes if it is digitally accessible.
"You don’t have to do this all at once or all by yourself," Wiley said. "I am a resource, and if individual faculty want to reach out to me, I am open to that."
- An interdisciplinary minor in Middle Eastern studies offered by the world languages and cultures, history, philosophy and religious studies, and political science departments. The minor addresses a demand for employees with knowledge of the region's countries and cultures. It also will aid military officer training programs at the university.
- A policy on the maximum allowable credits from prior learning that can be used to complete a student's undergraduate degree. The university does not have a clear policy and this proposal would allow a maximum of 60 credits of prior learning, no more than 32 from exams.
- An undergraduate certificate in soil science in the agronomy department. The 31-credit certificate qualifies graduates for federal employment and meets the criteria to be licensed as a soil scientist.
- A name change for the entrepreneurial studies minor to entrepreneurship minor. The change is consistent with other initiatives across campus.
- A name change in the Faculty Handbook for the last full week of classes before finals, from dead week to prep week.
Courtney Biere ("BEER-ee") joined President Wendy Wintersteen's staff in mid-January as strategic engagement coordinator at the Knoll. In that role, she schedules more than 80 university events in the house each year. She also serves as a house manager, assisting the president's spouse, Robert Waggoner, and coordinating services with facilities and ISU Catering staff.
Events appropriate for the Knoll include recognitions for special achievements – for example, an alumni dinner, faculty medallion ceremony or college reception -- as well as fundraising events and gatherings that help support presidential initiatives, Biere said. Whenever possible, she encouraged university employees to contact her several months prior to a proposed event to get it on the Knoll calendar.
The Webster City native completed her bachelor's degree in event management from Iowa State in December. Her student years included event planning internships with the ISU Research Park and Iowa 4-H Foundation. Her office is in the Knoll. She can be reached by phone, 294-7152, or email, email@example.com.
President Wendy Wintersteen updated the Professional and Scientific Council on fiscal year 2021 budget considerations at the council's March 5 meeting.
In her budget overview, Wintersteen said an expected decrease in enrollment this fall and its subsequent effect on tuition revenue, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the general operating fund, will require $24 million to $28 million in reallocations. Leaders creating budgets for their units are preparing versions with reductions of 3%, 4% and 5%, she said.
Asked how the financial stress could affect staffing levels, Wintersteen said Iowa State is a lean organization already, but it's too soon to know because budget recommendations haven't been submitted to central planners yet. Also, opportunities for efficiency in each division and college vary, she said.
In its legislative request for FY21, which begins July 1, Iowa State asked for a 4% increase in general operations funds ($7 million), a $2.9 million increase for a joint biosciences innovation program with the University of Iowa and a $30 million commitment over three years for a College of Human Science facilities plan that would replace LeBaron Hall.
Legislators haven't passed a higher education budget yet, but Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended a 3% increase ($5.3 million) in general appropriations for Iowa State, Wintersteen said. Reynolds also recommended the biosciences funding as requested, which would fully cover the initiative's $4 million annual budget.
"You never know until it's over what's going to happen," Wintersteen said of legislative funding.
The state Board of Regents will set tuition rates after legislative funding is clear. The board's policy is to limit tuition increases to 3% if the legislative request is met, with a larger increase allowed if state funding falls short of the request, Wintersteen said.
A small team has started working on an overhaul of student information software to replace aging systems that hold data such as financial aid and academic records, senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert told council members. The group leading the due diligence effort includes university information systems director for information technology services Carol McDonald, university registrar Jennifer Suchan and registrar systems director Diane Rupp.
Due diligence will involve two steps, Wickert said. First, the group will assess what a new student information platform will need to do. The group then will determine if Workday's student information product could meet those needs, since the university already has an existing relationship and contract with Workday.
The project team will look at the cost and staffing for the project, which is expected to take years to implement. Wickert said it will take four to six months for the group to gather enough information to make an informed decision on the next step.
In council business, members elected the council's FY21 executive officers. All ran unopposed:
- President-elect: Chris Johnsen, store and distribution center manager, ISU Extension and Outreach
- Secretary-Treasurer: Joy Stroud, business and finance manager, Reiman Gardens
- Vice president for equity and inclusion: Lindsay Moeller, staff recruiting specialist, university human resources
- Vice president for university community relations: John Burnett-Larkins, communications specialist, College of Engineering
- Vice president for university planning and budget: Barry McCroskey, accountant, ISU Extension and Outreach
McCroskey, Stroud and Moeller were reelected in their respective positions. Next year's president is current president-elect Sara Parris, associate director, Thielen Student Health Center. Officer terms begin July 1. Online elections for council representatives will be March 16-27.
Bill Spratt likens Central Stores to a super Wal-Mart without the food. Jared Hohanshelt sees it as a cross between Menards, Office Depot and a custodial warehouse. No matter the comparison, they both agree the university's central buying operation should be better known.
"We've always struggled with getting our name out. We joke that we're the best kept secret on campus," said Hohanshelt, Central Stores director.
How to order
Nearly 5,500 in-stock items can be ordered from the Central Stores online catalog. For help finding and buying items that aren't regularly stocked, contact Bill Spratt at firstname.lastname@example.org, 294-0408 or 515-745-0084.
Central Stores stocks about 5,500 products in its General Services Building warehouse, a mix of general needs (trash bags, batteries, paper in many forms) and particular ones (plumbing and electrical parts, printer toners, hundreds of tools).
"It's just about anything you would need to help run a small city," said Spratt, Central Stores supervisor.
The mission is to save Iowa State money. Thanks to volume discounts, vendor contracts and familiarity with local sellers, Spratt is confident Central Stores is difficult to beat on price.
"You can't get it cheaper than I can," he said.
After unveiling a more user-friendly online catalog last summer, Central Stores is aiming to raise its profile on campus in hopes of reducing the estimated $1 million in ISU purchases it misses out on annually. Conservatively, capturing those sales would save $200,000, Hohanshelt said.
Better than Amazon
Up until July 2019, ordering items from Central Stores was an acquired skill. Buyers needed to be familiar enough with the catalog to know what they were looking for, Spratt said. The updated catalog is a much simpler searchable index that includes product pictures.
"It's not quite the Amazon experience, but it's getting close," Spratt said.
Matching or beating online retailers on delivery is a focus, too. Central Stores delivers, at no charge, in-stock items by the next day to campus customers, and same-day delivery usually is possible with orders submitted before 1 p.m., Spratt said. Delivery staff will take items to wherever needed, including specific desks and storage closets.
"We go upstairs, downstairs, no elevator, elevator, whatever it is, where you want it is where we put it," Spratt said.
Buying from Central Stores instead of a third-party seller also is easier on the back end, Hohanshelt said. Units can pay for items directly from university accounts to avoid purchase-card reconciliation, and problems with products aren't left for local buyers to navigate.
Much of what Central Stores buys is meant to serve the entire campus, like the semitrailer of copy paper delivered every three weeks -- 8,400 reams per truckload. But storekeepers also track down special items.
For example, a campus customer recently contacted Spratt looking for converters to replace 9-volt batteries with AAs. The best price the customer found was more than $6 apiece. Spratt got them for 63 cents from a local vendor.
In addition to the money saved on price, limiting the time spent fetching products has value. Central Stores has an employee devoted to picking up special orders who, when stopping in at local retailers, too often sees other university employees picking up items, Spratt said.
"That shouldn't be. It should be us going to get the stuff," he said.
Studying what works
While Central Stores usually will stock what customers want to buy, but it does promote efficiency. In some cases, that involves encouraging buyers to consider less expensive brands or alternatives. Sometimes, the persuasion springs from analysis.
Studying usage patterns, Central Stores found that it costs less in the long run to buy more expensive bathroom paper towels. People used more of the cheaper brown sheets to dry their hands than the costlier but more absorbent white variety. For the same reason, Central Stores only sells two-ply toilet paper.
With an on-campus seller, the whole system is considered. As part of the paper towel analysis, Central Stores took into account the additional time custodians had to spend reloading paper towel dispensers that ran out more frequently, Hohanshelt said.
"We don't look just at the product, we look at the process involved," he said.
Looking at the whole process also is a driving force behind the collaboration with Iowa Prison Industries, which manufactures the university's trash bags and cleaning solutions. Inmates receive job training, and the university gets a quality product at a great price, Spratt said.
Hohanshelt said he'd like to promote Central Stores more on campus, perhaps including signs or marketing, but adjusting to the needs of potential buyers is equally important. Store staff have begun meeting with local units to identify purchases they could be handling.
"We're getting more into the weeds. We're doing more one-on-ones on, 'How can we help you,'" he said.
Hohanshelt also hopes to renovate the front room of the Central Stores warehouse to make the area more like a showroom, giving staff a chance to test out items.
"Our tradespeople want to see, feel and touch the products instead of looking at a catalog," he said.
Iowa State employees know the university provides a strong benefit package, but one of the unheralded advantages of Workday is a more detailed pay breakdown that makes the financial value of ISU benefits clear.
More on pay slips
Payroll staff are offering departmental presentations on how to understand and manage pay slip information. The payroll office also welcomes feedback on improving how deductions are identified and presented in Workday. To request a presentation or suggest improvements, email email@example.com.
There's a section called "Employer Paid Benefits" on each payslip, which employees can access by clicking on the "Pay" app on the Workday home screen. The cost of the university's share of benefits and mandatory deductions is listed and itemized, on both a per-pay-period and year-to-date basis.
With the year-to-date totals, every employee's payslip for the Dec. 31 payroll shows how much Iowa State spent on their benefits that year, said Ed Holland, director of benefits for university human resources. While situations differ widely, the annual tally for ISU-paid benefits can be a sizable sum.
"It's one thing to say what we're offering. It's another to show it in black and white in a pay stub," he said.
The prior format for sharing pay information, in AccessPlus, didn't have a line-item rundown for employer contributions. Adding those details was a choice when planning for Workday's launch last summer, Holland said.
"We really wanted a straightforward representation of what the employee was paying and what the employer was paying for benefits," he said.
Seeing indirect compensation outlined in an easy-to-understand manner also can help raise awareness about benefits, he said. Employees may notice that Iowa State, like all employers, matches employee tax contributions for Medicare and Social Security, the latter listed in Workday as OASDI (old age, survivors and disability insurance). Or they could see a benefit they weren't aware of, such as the retirement replacement insurance that comes with long-term disability coverage and maintains TIAA contributions if an employee is disabled.
"This is about educating employees," Holland said.