- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2020

University life in Iowa has become increasingly worrisome as learning shifts from in-person to online amid rising COVID-19 cases.

On Wednesday, more than 800 students, faculty and staff staged a “sickout” to protest face-to-face learning at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, one of the nation’s leading hot spots for coronavirus infections.

Jamie Pollard, athletics director at Iowa State University, tweeted this week that the Cyclones’ home football opener would be played in an empty Jack Trice Stadium, which seats 25,000 people.

“President [Wendy] Wintersteen shared with me on Tuesday evening that, after weighing feedback she has received from the community, she has decided to reverse the decision,” Mr. Pollard tweeted. “As a result, we will play the season opener without fans.”

In the state capital of Des Moines, Drake University sent home more than a dozen students for violating the campus’ COVID-19 guidelines last month.

And as of Tuesday, more than 20 students were in quarantine — either on or off campus — due to potential exposure to COVID-19 at Morningside College in Sioux City in the state’s northwest corner, where positive cases continue to climb.

“I want to stress that while we have been very fortunate so far, we could see an increase in cases at any time,” Morningside President John Reynders told students last week. “When that happens, it’s imperative that we not panic.”

Iowa has the second-highest case rate by population in the nation (241 infections per 100,000 people) over the last seven days, trailing only South Dakota. Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, ordered kids back to school on K-12 campuses this fall. But increasing attention has turned to colleges as the large, public universities resumed courses last month.

More than 1,100 students at the University of Iowa have self-reported testing positive for COVID-19, and tests were not mandated upon return to campus last month. Wednesday’s sickout protested the university’s management of the coronavirus.

Provost and Interim Executive Vice President Kevin Kregel wrote on the eve of the sickout to faculty, saying he “strongly disagree[d]” with the “planned manner of expressing” concerns over the university’s response.

“I respectfully remind you that as role models, you have an obligation to deliver instruction as assigned, and to provide appropriate notice of absence due to illness,” said Mr. Kregel.

Exactly how many undergraduates, graduates and faculty participated in Wednesday’s demonstration is not known. A university spokesperson did not respond to a request for a number.

Inside Higher Ed reported that more than 800 staff, faculty and students — mostly undergraduates — had participated in the sickout by midday.

The demonstration drew sharp criticism from leaders of the College Republicans at the university, who said it’s students going to bars, not professors, who should fear the coronavirus.

“She’s standing behind an 8-foot Plexiglas wall,” Mackenzie Jones, president of the College Republicans chapter, said about the professor for her only in-person class this term. “It’s the kid’s going down to the bars and drinking with friends [who will get COVID-19].”

Kelsey Kannenberg, secretary of the College Republicans, said her literature professor scrapped online class plans Wednesday and instead held an “forum” — without requiring attendance — via Zoom in which “music was played” and students could discuss their anxieties about COVID-19.

“It was kind of disappointing for me because we had had a paper due that day and I’d stayed up late that night before and then it wasn’t due,” Ms. Kannenberg said. “We’re paying full tuition for these teachers to teach an in-person class.”

The college’s faculty Senate and graduate student union did not endorse Wednesday’s sickout, according to statements from the organizations.

Maggie Bashore, president of University Democrats in Iowa City, told The Times that many students are “kinda terrified.” She says she was unable to leave her apartment on two days, waiting for test results.

“I have friends who’ve gotten COVID just from going to class,” said Ms. Bashore, who noted some professors are discouraging the use of masks. “In fact, all of my in-person classes have gone online for the week because of how many classmates have been exposed and are quarantined.”

The virus has ripped across Iowa’s college towns, as students returned to campus. Last week, the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls reported that 32% of students, faculty and staff tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, Iowa State University in Ames reported a 28.8% positivity rate.

An ISU instructor told The Times that one-third of her students are out with COVID-19 exposure or awaiting test results. She has switched her lesson plan to online for the week after having begun the year with in-person instruction.

“In my circle, we’re all angry,” Ms. Bashore said. “We’re really trying to organize [for] a statewide mask mandate.”

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