A new threaded post on this topic can be found here. For previous posts about the Harreld hire, click the tag below.
04/25/20 — On Thursday of last week the Daily Iowan’s Rin Swann had an interesting story up about the search for yet another Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Iowa. There have been so many searches at UI since illegitimate president J. Bruce Harreld was hired that it’s hard to keep them all straight, but the AVP-DEI position is particularly notorious because of the TaJuan Wilson debacle earlier this year. (For more on all that, see here and here.)
Despite the fact that the new search is just now getting underway, Swann does an excellent job of framing the larger context and underscoring the stakes involved, starting with the headline: UI student urges next Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leader to report to president. As regular readers know, not only did Harreld demote DEI from his cabinet and kick that position out of his office, but at the same time he invented an entirely new position for an ex-jock to handle startups on the UI campus — which Harreld then also made a dual report to his office. And yet from Swann’s report it sounds as if there may be a reassessment taking place about whether DEI is a cabinet-level position or not:
Donna Cramer, a representative from [search firm] Isaacson, Miller who hosted the student session, said the person who holds the position will report to the provost.
“… The person will most likely sit on the President’s Cabinet, so they will have a voice at the President’s Cabinet level,” Cramer said.
I don’t know what “most likely” means, but making that determination prior to advertising for the position will certainly have an impact on the quality of the applicants, as well as comity on the UI campus. Harreld has in fact been an entitled slug about DEI during his tenure, and in her reporting Swann rightly points out his administrative opportunism and hypocrisy:
The UI often turns to peer institutions when pitching its need for more state funding because some of those schools see better outcomes, such as higher graduation and retention rates — which Harreld has said is because those campuses, such as University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, receive more support per student.
Whereas on the issue of tuition, Harreld has advocated for its cost to be at or above the median of the peer group, he said in a September 2019 DI interview the UI felt comfortable straying from the peer group in this reporting structure because “context matters.”
Without performing an exhaustive historical analysis, I can state with high confidence that there has never been a more disreputable president at the University of Iowa, and Harreld’s cavalier belief that he can cherry-pick facts to suit whatever argument he is making at the moment underscores that certainty. No one who is honest talks like J. Bruce Harreld talks.
* From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, a glimpse at the pain to come: Even with federal aid, Iowa higher ed takes big hit from pandemic.
Conservative estimates from Iowa State University tally the campus’ coronavirus-related losses and additional expenses at more than $80 million — prompting leaders to announce looming budget cuts and pay freezes.
Assuming status quo in state appropriations and fall tuition rates, ISU President Wendy Wintersteen last week directed all campus units to cut 5 percent from their budgets for fiscal 2021, which begins July 1. And she told them to plan for another 5 percent budget cut in fiscal 2022, too.
One aspect that is obviously interesting about these numbers is that so far the regents and affiliated university presidents are talking as if the campuses will be open in the fall, so these cuts would seem to be in anticipation of enrollment fall-off. (Particularly in freshman numbers, which could extend into the 2021-2022 academic year depending on how the hunt for a vaccine goes.) In any event, budgeting for the upcoming year is going to be a nightmare, and that’s assuming Iowa doesn’t generate an even larger outbreak before we reach our first peak.
* Governor Reynolds announced Friday that she is going to open up select parts of the state economy, and two early targets were farmer’s markets and elective surgeries. While no one in their right mind will go to a farmer’s market any time soon, I have no problem allowing elective surgeries as long as the associated facility has sufficient safeguards and personal protective equipment to safely provide treatment. While I certainly don’t think anyone needs Botox in their face even during the best of times, there are a lot of people who have been suffering with painful conditions for the past two months, and I think the major hospitals in the state are not currently at risk of being overrun.
From KCRG’s Taylor Holt: University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics “prepared” to resume elective surgeries.
“This is not calling back every single patient and going through this. We’re going to bring them back in blocks service by service. Each of our physician leaders has a pretty good understanding of which patients that have been delayed are most in need,” he said.
He says right now, they are getting a better understanding of the guidelines. They plan to start talking to patients on Monday and starting procedures the following week – as he says many of their cases are about a patient’s health first.
“We don’t do very many cases that are cosmetic so most of the time when folks come to the university it’s because it’s something serious. What we’ve seen is patient’s health risks that gets greater and greater by delaying procedures, we see patients that are in such significant pain that you have to prescribe them opioids or other things in order to tide them over for this period of time,” he added.
While triage is normally thought of in healthcare terms, from an economic perspective we will have to make similar choices about almost every industry, weighing value to society against the risks of allowing that industry to go back to work. There are no easy solutions, and we will have setbacks, but non-cosmetic elective surgery clearly meets whatever test we might apply, and I have confidence that UIHC won’t become overextended. (I’m less confident about the hospitals in Des Moines, because Polk County is seeing a sharp increase in cases.)
* One of the things that distinguishes real university presidents from illegitimate lying trash like J. Bruce Harreld is that even when they are up against it, real university presidents feel obligated to hew to reason and logic, instead of just making up whatever reality they prefer. For example, consider this NYT op-ed, from the president of Brown University: College Campuses Must Reopen in the Fall. Here’s How We Do It. While the author is correct that the higher-ed industry will feel horrendous pain if campuses don’t open in the fall, she is nonetheless obligated by academic norms to formulate a solution, and that solution involves the development and implementation of seamless testing protocols.
Testing is an absolute prerequisite. All campuses must be able to conduct rapid testing for the coronavirus for all students, when they first arrive on campus and at regular intervals throughout the year. Testing only those with symptoms will not be sufficient.
Given the current and compromised state of testing in the United States, even the richest schools in America will fail to implement such a program before fall, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be wholesale attempts to fake such protocols. In fact, I would think the University of Iowa would be eager to go down that road, if not aggressively advertise its world-class testing program in order to grow market share. On the other hand, you wouldn’t be wrong read this op-ed as a road map for other university presidents, which will allow them to claim to be doing the right thing while they obscure any public visibility into the results of such testing. Which is to say that even real university presidents can be duplicitous rats, and often are.
One additional benefit of the promotion of widespread campus testing is that it might plausibly help to close the legal liability gap, at least until a beloved faculty member or staffer died a horrible death at the hands of COVID-19, at which point the gloves would certainly come off on that campus. At that point the school would be compelled to produce its testing results, and to explain its protocols in court, at which point the sieve-like nature of any college campus would become apparent to any jury, and said school would lose millions. And yet…it still might be worth it on a purely economic basis, and I think we know which way J. Bruce Harreld would go on that front — assuming he doesn’t quit and simply hand this nightmare to somebody else.
* On the enrollment front, the state of Minnesota seems to be significantly ahead of Iowa in terms of dealing with the reality of the pandemic and providing information to the public. From Ryan Faircloth at the Star Tribune: For Minnesota colleges, pandemic brings financial reckoning and an uncertain fall semester.
The University of Minnesota has frozen tuition for the next academic year in hopes of attracting a large freshman class during the pandemic. As of last week, fall freshman enrollment was trending nearly 10% behind where it was this time last year.
A 10% drop-off isn’t surprising, but it’s still a heavy hit. As to which way that number will break in the coming months, I don’t know, but thanks to immediate cash infusions from the federal government we have yet to see any real economic reckoning for families. When the Q2 numbers start coming in, and even the most-aggressive efforts to restart local and state economies falter (because people are, surprisingly, leery of getting themselves killed), we’re going to be dealing with a whole new level of pain that universities have limited powers to blunt.
04/24/20 — On the same day that Iowa posted its single highest numbers of deaths (11) and highest number of new cases (521), and the deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health announced that Iowa’s peak is another two to three weeks away — after having said the same thing a month ago — the governor announced that “it’s time” to open up the state. So if you were wondering whether the governor might encourage the Board of Regents to open up the state schools in the fall, even if it ends up killing people, you now have your answer.
* I do not think that the question of legal liability will ultimately be determinative in opening up Iowa’s public universities, but it is nonetheless important. I do expect the state to do everything possible to shield itself from such risk, including writing new laws to preclude lawsuits against the state if the state tells workers to get back to worker — and that includes workers at the state schools.
From Ephrat Livni & Max Lockie at Quartz: US businesses want immunity from coronavirus lawsuits.
* I also expect that professional and collegiate sports will be at the head of the pack in insisting on protection from legal liability, so they can compel athletes to compete in close quarters, and compel fans to take their seats. While fans might balk at attending games, they would still face the difficult decision of whether to pay for their usual season seats or not, because failure to do so would mean worse seating if they signed up again in the future. That in turn would lead to long-time fans to buy their usual seating packages, then sell their own tickets to people who were less prone to social distancing, which would in turn increase the likelihood that sporting events would become a locus of contagion.
Having said that, for colleges in particular a single year of lost football revenue — which is largely derived from television — would be catastrophic to athletic departments across the country. From Ken Goe at the Oregonian: Why a shortened or canceled college football season could have ‘cataclysmic’ effect on athletic departments nationwide.
* Speaking of football and the University of Iowa — where the athletics department has so far avoided any public freakouts — we have an interesting observation by a UI professor, from a story by the Daily Iowan’s Charles Peckman: Where does Iowa stand in flattening the coronavirus curve?
When asked how long Iowans will be stuck at home for, [UI Anthropology Professor Andrew] Kitchen said it depends on “our willingness” to adhere to mitigation efforts, but cautioned that the coronavirus is not like flipping a switch — in short, it will be months before “our lives seem normal again.”
“I think this is going to last a lot longer than people think it will,” he said. “Large groups of people — like at a football game — will only be safe once we have a vaccine.”
One would imagine that Professor Kitchen may have received one or more hot emails today from central administration or the athletics department. (Not because he was wrong, but because he was right.)
* As you may have heard, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds decided, after a phone chat with Iowa native Ashton Kutcher on another topic, to drop $26M on coronavirus testing kits and related software based on his recommendation. This hefty impulse buy will allow the state to test and track Iowans in significantly greater but still miserly numbers, after a month or more of Reynolds telling concerned Iowans to go home if they were sick and stop whining for a test. Despite the monetary magnitude and life-or-death importance of the deal, however, no other vendors were even considered for all or part of the contract, and that includes Iowa’s other R1/AAU public research university, the University of Iowa.
Setting aside the fact that Reynolds could have and should have been testing aggressively from the beginning, and pushed both of the state’s research universities to contribute, the University of Iowa not only already handles most of the state’s testing — through the UI Hygienics Lab — and was recently contracted with by the governor to provide a predictive model for the pandemic in Iowa, but the new tests that were purchased with $26M in taxpayer money will still be processed by UI, even though all of the money is going out of state. As for the software side of the deal, not only is illegitimate UI president a former senior exec at IBM, but he went out of his way to hire a former UI basketball player with healthcare startup experience to run the UI business incubator, yet Governor Reynolds didn’t give UI furtive glance before sending all of that money to Kutcher’s bros.
Given the endless hype from Harreld about UI being a world-class everything, and the fact that the only reason he even got the job was because he was supposed to transform the university in a revenue-producing machine, it is quite slap in the face that the governor didn’t even hesitate before sending $26M out the front door on the advice of a celebrity.
* Just about a week after a similar message appeared on the UI website (see 04/18/20 below), the president of Iowa State University pushed out a short statement today asserting the intent to open the campus to classes in the fall, consistent with the assertion and intent of the president of the Iowa Board of Regents. From Sage Smith at the Iowa State Daily: Iowa State addresses planning effort for fall semester. While ISU President Wintersteen quite literally quoted Richards, and said all the right things to make one think she was champing at the bit to open the campus to classes, as was the case with the UI statement there was also a hedge:
Iowa State will look at all possible options that follow Richards’ directive while prioritizing the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.
Among the key differences between Iowa State and Iowa: ISU has no associated medical facility, ISU is very close to Des Moines, the county Iowa State resides in is one of the more notoriously corrupt counties in the state, and the campus is largely controlled by crony political and business interests which feed on football game days and renting apartments to students at inflated prices. All of which is to say that whatever pressures there are from boosters, big-name athletic donors and assorted higher-ed creeps in Iowa City, those pressures are exponentially greater in Ames, which is why Wintersteen won’t be making any announcements any time soon even if it isn’t feasible to open the campus.
(Note also that even though Story County — which is home to ISU — abuts two counties which have posted coronavirus cases in the multiple hundreds, and Ames is a fairly good-sized town in its own right, and home to an R1/AAU research university with a normal, non-pandemic enrolled campus of +36K plus faculty and staff, there are still only 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in that county. I don’t know what a corrupt county would have to do to artificially suppress or otherwise depress its infection rate, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s being done.)
* More links to stories about enrollment and the future effects of the coronavirus pandemic:
04/23/20 — While we still have a long way to go until the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year, the contours of the decision-making process that will determine whether the UI campus is opened or remains closed are already coming into focus. We will dig into all of that in the coming days, but right now I believe that although the pressure is on to open campuses across the country — largely as a result of the lucrative nature of football — the odds are most schools won’t, but they will make that decision late in the proverbial game.
* From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, two stories — one yesterday, one today — about coronavirus testing:
* And speaking of testing, a very short piece here from Nick Tabbert at KCCI, but with a critical quote: Serology testing determines if you can build immunity to COVID-19, but there’s a catch.
“Someone has to validate these tests,” said Dr. Stanley Perlman, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa.
Perlman said many companies are offering these tests, but the accuracy varies substantially.
“We don’t even know if the tests are good,” Perlman said. “With bad tests it’s even worse. (We) don’t know if people with positive tests are really positive. People who have negative tests are really negative. So it’s so key to have a good test.”
A month ago or so, in the absence of a governmental solution, the feds threw open the door to private-sector testing and a lot of garbage flowed into the marketplace. As a result, some of the tests people are using and reporting on may have the accuracy of a mood ring, which means all of the data you’re reading about today is inherently suspect.
* Speaking of garbage, the executive suite at the University of Iowa pushes out a lot of bilge itself, and one of the signature tells is the elucidation of the school’s core mission, which is routinely altered to fit whatever message is being sent. For example, if the university gets in trouble over diversity, equity and inclusion — as happened during the TaJuan Wilson debacle — then diversity, equity and inclusion suddenly become core tenets of the school until the ruckus dies down. On the UI Campus Coronavirus Updates page a new message was posted today which checks that tell-tale box. In sum it seems to be ass-covering administrative blather about the budget pain to come, but the last line stood out:
This is a unique time in our history and campus leadership has a strategic opportunity to differentiate ourselves as a destination university.
It would of course be perfectly in keeping with the predatory and narrow mindset of J. Bruce Harreld to view a global pandemic as an opportunity to capture market share, but then again one wonders what sort of “destination” the University of Iowa will represent in the fall. If the school does open the campus then attendance will represent a health risk to students, faculty and staff alike, but if the school charges full-freight for a semester of online coursework it can hardly call itself a “destination”. (This is the kind of deranged thinking that flows from state-sponsored monopoly control of higher education, and note again the implicit association with the hospitality industry The focus at UI isn’t on taking market share in terms of academic value, but via the ‘experience’ of higher education, which by definition does not exist in any virtual context.)
* More reports on the coming higher-ed enrollment crunch:
Washington Times — Universities across U.S. lowering tuition for fall semester.
04/21/20 — Missed this yesterday, from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: University of Iowa fraternity investigated for party during coronavirus pandemic.
“The letter, obtained under a public records request from The Gazette, gives few specifics about the possible violation but indicates Sigma Chi on March 28 is accused of hosting an “unregistered social event” that included 30 to 50 people, “potentially in violation of university and State of Iowa expectations to limit gatherings to ten or fewer people in response to concerns about COVID-19.”
Coincidentally, illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld is not only a former member of Sigma Chi himself (at Purdue), but he is erroneously considered to be a ‘Significant Sig‘ by that august fraternal institution. (From time to time, one wonders if the serial abuses committed by the UI chapter of Sigma Chi are serially excused by the UI president.)
Update: More here late tonight from the Daily Iowan’s Brooklyn Draisey: UI fraternity under investigation for allegedly holding large social gathering amid COVID-19 pandemic.
As for today’s news, we have a couple of small higher-ed glimpses into our pandemic future, and a sampling of other stories….
* The Big Ten’s athletic machinery is gearing up to influence the decision about whether to open the conference’s campuses in the fall. From John Bohnenkamp, writing for SI.com: Big Ten Announces Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases:
The task force will be advising the conference with “critical guidance around return-to-campus decisions at the appropriate time,” according to a statement released by the conference.
There is of course plenty of lofty rhetoric to go with the announcement of the task force, but the most important aspect of the story is that a bunch of jocks not only want a say in whether the conference campuses are re-opened during a global pandemic, they want to use the learned and respected faculty and staff of the member institutions to help further that objective. Speaking of which, on the hot seat for the University of Iowa will be Dr. Edith Parker, Dean of the UI College of Public Health, who was appointed by illegitimate president J. Bruce Harreld two years ago. Whatever Parker’s marching orders, it is certainly a nice ‘get’ for the Big Ten to have a dean on the panel, let alone one who represents a college dedicated to public health.
The group serves as a resource to the entire Conference, addressing current infectious disease concerns, while preparing the Big Ten for the safe resumption of athletic activities in the future.”
The hope, obviously, would be that Parker will indeed put public health first — including the health of athletes and fans — yet it’s hard to imagine she was appointed by the University of Iowa with that intent. In fact, given that both the Iowa Board of Regents and the university have already said they intend to be open for business as usual in the fall, it would seem that Parker’s job is to make that happen.
* From Sue Danielson at WHO: U Iowa Health Care asking for hand sewn masks amid outbreak. I was concerned that UI might be suffering from a PPE shortage, but the appeal in this case seem more proactive than reactive. In order to preserve supplies for front-line workers, they’re looking for less-exacting protective equipment that can be used by other workers that still gets the job done. If you like to sew, or want to contribute, a worthy cause. (Also includes a request for face shields, but that item is obviously more complex.)
Update: This story from Sarah Watson at the Daily Iowan adds more information: UIHC adds requirements for employee personal protective equipment….
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has stepped up requirements for its employees to wear personal protective equipment in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, requiring all employees who have face-to-face interactions with patients to wear both a medical-grade mask and face shields.
For staff who don’t come in contact with patients, UI Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan said at a press conference on Tuesday that they are required to wear cloth masks, many of which are homemade.
So a more aggressive attempt to limit the number of front line workers who get sick, with support staff using cloth masks instead.
* Speaking of UIHC, this is an interesting article from Maureen Salamon at Medscape.com: Surge or No Surge, the Midwest Readies for COVID-19. Includes comments from UIHC Chief of Staff Marta Van Beek and UIHC Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan. Very level-headed comments from both of them. (It’s sad that being level-headed deserves mention at UI, but given the lunacy and propaganda perpetually emanating from central administration this is where we are.)
* The question of whether to open any campus in the fall, or remain online and provide virtual instruction, is incredibly complex, but the complexities are not symmetric. If you decide early on to focus on opening a campus, you may have to change your mind at the last minute, which would be the worst of all-possible outcomes. (Notwithstanding any tuition revenue you screwed students out of by misleading them during the period during which they enrolled.) On the other hand, if you commit early to online instruction, you have the whole summer to gear up and improve your technology and training, and chances are things will run much more smoothly than they are now precisely because everyone will know what to expect. And of course the worst-case scenario in that instance would be opening the campus at the last minute — or perhaps even halfway through the term — but in doing so you would be drawing from long institutional experience and genuine goodwill that things were getting back to normal.
I mention all of that because the first school broke in favor of that kind of certainty today. From NPR’s Elissa Nadworny: Cal State Fullerton Announces Plans For A Virtual Fall. Will Other Colleges Follow?
On Monday, California State University, Fullerton announced it was planning to begin the fall 2020 semester online, making it one of the first colleges to disclose contingency plans for prolonged coronavirus disruptions.
“Our plan is to enter [the fall] virtually,” said Pamella Oliver, the schools provost, at a virtual town hall. “Of course that could change depending on the situation, depending on what happens with COVID-19. But at this point that’s what we’re thinking.”
The difference between what the Iowa Board of Regents and University of Iowa are saying, and what Cal State Fullerton is doing, could not be more stark.
* More reporting on enrollment and budget concerns for the 2020-2021 academic year, spanning the full range of academic institutions:
A tuition freeze might help in the aftermath of an economic downturn, but toss in a pandemic, and uncertainty about whether classes will be held online or on campus, and I don’t know that this sort of announcement is anything other than an opening bid in the battle to attract and retain students.
Columbia Chronicle — Columbia ‘anxious,’ while optimistic for Fall 2020 enrollment despite predictions of national decline. Includes a telling admissions admission:
Joseph said the admissions team has been “aggressively” signaling to prospective students that classes will be in-person in the fall because even entertaining the idea of online courses could negatively impact enrollment. He added that the only reason courses would remain online would be if government officials mandated the move.
Asserting that you’re going to have in-person classes in the fall, but leaving the door open to blaming public officials for compelling you to stay closed, is exactly the kind of sophisticated scam that one has come to expect from the Ivy League, so we should expect to see other colleges and universities follow suit. Whether that will protect them from legal action remains to be seen, but the higher-ed market itself may compel some concessions, including the right of students to withdraw penalty-free if a school does decide at a later date that in-class instruction cannot take place. At which point the only real question for the bean counters will be whether students will actually back out, or grumble their way through the fall semester while paying full price for a knock-off product.
While there are still a great many uncertainties, and I don’t blame anyone outside Iowa for struggling with the resulting decision matrix, I think there are two conclusions we can reach with some confidence. First, whatever transpires, there is going to be a lot of administrative mischief over the next six months or so, as bloodthirsty college and university presidents use COVID-19 to plausibly destroy people and programs that they always wanted to get rid of. How many people will find themselves out of the street is anyone’s guess, but when you give power to corrupt people they tend to do corrupt things.
Second, the difference between schools that decide early and decide late is going to track closely with schools that do and do not have major college sports programs. For example, I didn’t know this while I was reading the NPR article on Cal State Fullerton, but they discontinued their football program in 1992, so they don’t have an army of drunken alums breathing down their administrative necks to open the campus. And while Columbia is a Division I school, their football team plays in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), and as such doesn’t count. (That schools will be hedging and hesitating over sports is loony, but when you think about it big-money college sports are also loony.)
04/20/20 — There was a little bit of financial-market hilarity today when crude oil that is set for delivery in May dropped to -$37, meaning — at least on paper — that producers couldn’t give it away, primarily because there is no place to put it. In reality, that was more of a market glitch than a problem with supply and demand, but even looking several months ahead the price of crude has fallen to about $21 barrel, well off its high of $60+ at the beginning of the year.
I mention that not because of the negative price itself, but as a measure of how unsettled the energy markets are right now, and rightly so given that we may be heading into a depression. And of course that could have negative implications for the half-century-long deal that the University of Iowa just consummated with two French energy companies — ENGIE and Meridiam — which was in turn an elaborate front that allowed UI to borrow $1B to play with in the very same markets that are now trying to sell oil at a loss. What could possibly go wrong?
* From the Gazette’s Alison Gowans: From China to Iowa, a helping hand for PPE. This is an interesting story, which is in some ways hard to read because of the specter of international politics and governmental abuses of power lurking in the background. So let me be clear up front that I don’t have any problem with the people of China, who have lived with oppression for so many generations that they represent an enslaved culture. As for their leaders, you could flush them all down the drain and the world would be a better place, but then again I think the same thing about America’s current leadership….
In this story I think everyone is trying to help, but I also think it goes deeper than that. If I was from China, I would be feeling grief for my own country and grief for the world, and I would be trying to help any way i could, even if I was just as much a victim as everyone else. Then again, if I was half a world away, in a country full of raging nationalist morons running around with guns and spouting Nazi rhetoric and waving the Confederate flag, I might seriously think about just keeping my head down, but the people in this story didn’t do that. We need more people like that everywhere, and we need leaders in every country who are deserving of such citizenship.
* Another day, another wave of stories about the coming enrollment crunch at colleges and universities:
Detroit Free Press — Massive declines in community college summer enrollments foreshadow tough times ahead.
New York Times — College Seniors Face Job Worries, Family Stress Amid Virus.
Talking Points Memo — Coronavirus-Caused Furloughs Hit Shuttered Colleges, Large And Small.
Note particularly the following passage in that last link, about the connection between state budgets and funding for public schools, which is largely driven by revenues that will take a massive hit in the coming fiscal year in Iowa:
Recessions can also mean serious state budget cuts that often lead to budget cuts for public higher education. It could even mean less money for state-based financial aid for students. That, of course, leads to higher tuition bills for students and families and tighter budgets for schools.
One of the (many) things I have railed about over the past four years, since the corrupt hire of J. Bruce Harreld by the corrupt Iowa Board of Regents, is the ceaseless determination of those corrupt agents to squeeze every last dollar out of the pricing model at UI, short of cratering enrollment as a direct function of cost. And the reason I railed about that was because their repeated tuition hikes took all of the slack out of the cost of a college education at UI, which might have come in handy if there was a sudden economic downturn. And here we are.
04/19/20 — Another day, another article about University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and I continue to be impressed with the visibility and accountability of both CEO Suresh Gunasekaran and Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan. From the Gazette’s Michaela Ramm and Vanessa Miller: Non-coronavirus health care shifts in pandemic response.
* As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, the stakes for higher education could not be….uh….more higher. Any significant across-the-board reduction in enrollment, whether from the arrested economy, fear of infection or both, will do lasting damage to colleges and universities across the country, and almost certainly lead to the closing of some institutions. While there are multiple factors involved in whether students will return to campuses for in-class instruction if called, it is worth noting that in many ways higher education functions like the hospitality industry, which is taking — and will continue to take — a beating precisely because it is premised on bringing human beings together. (Whether you’re hosting a hotel full of private-sector conventioneers or educating a university full of public-sector students, the logistics and amenities are essentially the same. Room and board, programming, entertainment, collegiality.)
A survey of articles on college enrollment from this past week:
Bloomberg Opinion — Coronavirus Pushes Higher Education to the Brink.
* On the budget side of the equation, even before we know how enrollment will break nationwide, and particularly at Iowa’s regent universities, the magnitude of the coming pain is clear. From Tucson.com: Furloughs and pay cuts set for staff, faculty at University of Arizona:
The unprecedented steps, made as the [University of Arizona] braces for “extreme” economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, go into effect on May 11 and require employees making $150,001 or more to take at least a 17% pay cut, while those making less to take unpaid work days resulting in at least a 5% salary reduction.
Those cost-saving efforts come as the UA has already seen $66 million in losses — and is projected to lose as much as $250 million — as a result of the coronavirus, according to UA president Robert C. Robbins, who told the Arizona Daily Star on Friday that the furloughs will be reviewed each month to ensure they’re hitting their savings goals.
Again, because Iowa has yet to finalize its state budget, the Board of Regents is effectively frozen in terms of announcing cuts or furloughs, but you can bet those conversations are taking place behind the scenes — and they should be. Unfortunately, as we have already seen, the problem in Iowa is that there is no one in charge who is even remotely connected to reality, so we’re getting lots of happy talk about how everyone will be back on campus in the fall. As a result, what should be an orderly process of preparation will almost certainly devolve into chaos and last-minute decision making. (Whether you’re a student, on staff or a member of the faculty, start saving your pennies if you haven’t already, and try to move up to dimes if you can.)
04/18/20 — On Friday the University of Iowa issued yet another periodic email/press release which was signed by both illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld, and totally legitimate Provost Montserrat Fuentes. As one would expect of any official communication from the leaders of an R1/AAU public research university, the message from Harreld and Fuentes was rambling, vague, and designed to provide both plausible deniability and abundant ass covering no matter what happens down the road. At the same time, however, the message also contained a single headline-grabbing sentence, which — at first blush — seems to be of obvious relevance with regard to the most pressing question at hand, which is whether the University of Iowa will open for business as usual in the fall.
Here is that sentence, and the inevitable headline, from the Daily Iowan’s Mary Hartel: University of Iowa planning for in-person classes in fall 2020 semester:
“Though the future is not set in stone — and we continue to monitor the latest guidance and information about this pandemic — we ARE planning to resume face-to-face instruction this fall,” the email said.
To the multiple qualifiers in that sentence alone, however, we can add a slew of hedging and conditional statements in the rest of the email, all of which point to one inescapable conclusion. While the leadership at UI is obligated to follow the lead of the president of the Iowa Board of Regents, who previously said the board intends to open the three state campuses in August, no one in their right mind would commit to that plan even if they were a complete suck-up. Speaking of which, here is the very next sentence from the email co-signed by Harreld:
The situation is, of course, extremely fluid, and the specific steps we will need to implement have yet to be determined.
Despite abundant waffling, followed by more waffling, it is at this point that the email/press release actually gets interesting. Continuing with the next two sentences:
Therefore, we have assembled a team led by the Office of the Provost and embedded within the UI’s Critical Incident Management Team (CIMT). These dedicated individuals, representing every corner of campus, will be working diligently and continuously to outline a plan that will bring us back in August.
Now, from an ass-covering point of view, nothing is better than giving power to a group of people you can subsequently ignore or override. (Harreld famously did this a few years back by empowering a committee to look at possible synergies between the UI Foundation — now known as the UI Center for Advancement — and the UI Almuni Association. When that committee delivered its final recommendations, Harreld ignored all of them and killed off the 150-year-old alumni association, passing its multi-million dollar endowment to the Foundation.)
The fact that this important advisory group is being organized under the relatively credible auspices of the provost’s office — instead of residing in the thoroughly corrupted executive suite — also lends additional credence to the idea that J. Bruce Harreld is currently functioning only in a figurehead capacity. (There is literally no reason to do this unless Harreld is effectively out of the loop, or simply refuses to meet the responsibilities he is currently being paid $800K per year to meet. Then again, one set of conversations Harreld does not want to have involves telling the Athletics Department that football season is off, so passing the decision-making buck to the eggheads on campus provides additional backside protection from angry alumni and coaches.)
We could spend a lot of time parsing the tea leaves in this particular campus message, but I think the takeaway is as noted above. There are genuinely complex issues in play, which no one could have prepared for, and between trying to shore up enrollment for the 2020-2021 academic year and leave all options open, the university leadership is following the lead of its parent board, albeit with enough qualifiers and outs to render the entire conversation void. Which is not to say, however, that we can’t look ahead to some obvious and important milestones.
It is easy to forget, but the annual process of determining the state budget was frozen almost a month ago, and will only pick up again — at the earliest — at the end of April. Given that the new fiscal year begins on July 1st, and the regents currently do not know exactly how much money to expect, it is understandable that the board might continue to put the best face possible on the current situation until that important financial uncertainty is resolved. (To be clear, the board won’t be taking a loss this year, because it has already granted itself the right to raise tuition a minimum of 3%, plus whatever amount is necessary to make itself ‘whole’ — at student expense — if the state fails to provide sufficient appropriations to compensate for inflation.)
Complimenting funding concerns on the appropriations side, there are even greater concerns about enrollment and tuition revenue, and of course that also provides a whopping incentive for the state schools to pretend everything is hunky-dory. Between the twin drags of a collapsing economy and the threat of the virus itself it is likely that enrollment will fall off in any case, but if students think they will have to pay full freight for another semester (or year) of godawful online courses, they’re likely to balk in even larger numbers. Thus the early promise to return to in-class instruction may be almost compulsory at this point, from a huckster-ish perspective, at least until it becomes clear that the state schools have suckered as many students as possible.
As to the practical issues the CIMT will have to wrestle with, at least until someone higher up the administrative food chain makes the final decision….
How do you bring together tens of thousands of people from other locations and safely integrate them without triggering an outbreak? How do you convince students and fans to shell out money to sit next to people they don’t know during lectures or sporting events? And who is ultimately responsible for any legal liability as a consequence of illness or death resulting from the decision to open the campus to business as usual? (Right now, someone in the regent enterprise is trying to calculate how much money it would cost to lose a few wrongful death lawsuits, versus losing revenue from keeping the campus closed.)
The reality is that even if we set out to do so, we could not draw up a more problematic system of human interaction during a pandemic than how large universities are designed to function. Even a small community college primarily draws students from the surrounding area, while a public research university draws students, faculty and staff from all over the world, only to then concentrate them in everything from dorms to classrooms to lecture halls to concerts to arenas and stadiums. Whatever problems restaurants, retail shops, manufacturers, salons and dentists will have in opening up their businesses again, the University of Iowa will have those and then some — yet as of today there is no solution to any of those problems.
Testing will help some, and masks will help some, and there may be clinical trials which prove helpful in mitigating symptoms, but short of a vaccine the only sure-fire way to prevent outbreaks is to continue aggressive social distancing, which will in turn preclude opening up the UI campus in the fall. All of which is why, while the provost and CIMT are diligently working to find solutions to all of those problem, Harreld and the regents will be diligently working to shield the campus from legal liability by any and every means possible, and open the campus anyway.
04/17/20 — There was a little bit of news out of the University of Iowa today about the fall term, but I want to see if there is more subsequent reporting before I post. As to the immediate consequences of the pandemic….
* From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: More than 60 University of Iowa hospital workers have tested positive for coronavirus. While this is obviously not good news, I don’t think it is particularly surprising or concerning given the scale of the enterprise. This institution and the people who work there — from the healthcare providers to support staff — are on the front lines. Given good protocols and sufficient PPE, the institution should be able to withstand a moderate amount of positive cases while still maintaining the ability to function and provide top-flight care.
If there is any good news in the article it’s that UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekeran made himself accessible and answered questions. On campus a where the president has spent the vast majority of his tenure hiding in his office as opposed to meeting with the local press, this is a welcome departure. So good for Gunasekeran, both for meeting his responsibilities, and for showing the people who are putting their lives on the line that he is with them.
* On the same topic, also take notice of this, as reported by the Daily Iowan’s Brooklyn Draisey: UI Health Care reports 64 cases of COVID-19 among employees since February:
UI Health Care will begin reporting the number of positive cases daily along with their other reporting to add transparency.
Keep that administrative decision in mind as you read the next item….
* Also from the Gazette’s Miller: University of Northern Iowa reports employee has coronavirus. The story here is not so much the individual case — which involved an employee who had not been on campus for a month — but this:
The university sent the campuswide communication about the positive case because the person chose to report it and because it was UNI’s first, according to Nook.
“However, we do not expect to report additional confirmed cases through campuswide messages moving forward,” Nook said in his message….
The University of Iowa on March 19 issued its first message about a COVID-19-positive community member — a UI dentistry student who had seen a patient while symptomatic.
UI officials also at that time said they were reporting the incident because the infected student self-reported to them, and they did not intend to issue campus communication every time a member of the UI community tests positive.
The general UI campus has not announced any more positive cases — although UI Health Care on Friday reported 64 of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
While no one expects the regents schools to divulge personally identifiable information, the idea that the state universities can simply refuse to release the number of faculty, staff and/or students who have tested positive is yet more evidence that the Iowa Board of Regents thinks of itself as a private corporation. Even the University of Northern Iowa, which is the smallest of the state schools by far, has a total population greater than about half of Iowa’s ninety-nine counties, and yet the university itself asserts the right to preclude the reporting of coronavirus cases on a campus of well over 12,000. (The campuses of Iowa State and the University of Iowa would both rank among the top fifteen counties in Iowa by population.)
Then again, obscuring any outbreaks on the state campuses — even over the summer, when most of the students, faculty and staff are away — would be critical to opening the campuses up for business as usual — and consequent outbreaks — in the fall, so one can see why the regents would not want to set the precedent of faithfully reporting positive cases to the press.
04/16/20 — After another now-routine period of press-release constipation at the University of Iowa, today the Iowa Now website produced news on a variety of administrative fronts. Before we dive into all of that, however, I want to flag a press release from Iowa State University, which i ran across last night by chance.
Published two days ago on the ISU website (04/14/20), here is the title of that Cyclone press release: Iowa State researchers develop mathematical models which track and forecast COVID-19 in Iowa and the United States.
Momentarily setting aside the research itself, what is particularly interesting about this news is that only three days ago — meaning the day before ISU published that press release — Iowa’a Governor announced that the Iowa Department of Public Health had signed a contract to develop a predictive COVID-19 model not with Iowa State, but with the University of Iowa.
So what is the backstory on all this? Did Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds — who is an alumnus (cough) of Iowa State — know about the ISU model before she committed to working with UI? Did Iowa State provide this model to the governor’s office and/or IDPH prior to publishing its press release? And why aren’t ISU and UI working together to create a model for the state, given that both schools are R1/AAU research universities?
One possible problem is that the ISU model clearly doesn’t tell the governor what she wants to hear:
“These dynamics indicate that Iowa has not fully controlled the spread yet,” [Yumou Qiu, assistant professor of statistics at Iowa State, and member of the research group] said. “We estimate that there are 741 undiagnosed COVID-19 cases in Iowa, and that this week’s confirmed infections will range from 680-1397.”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds declared a statewide public health disaster emergency on March 17. Since this proclamation, Iowa’s R has dropped from the 3.91 peak, to an all-time low of 1.54 on April 3. Iowa’s R has ticked slightly upward to its current value of 1.65.
Iowa’s average R value during the last 10 days was 1.66, a further indication that infected Iowans continue to spread COVID-19 to others.
By contrast, not only is the UI model still in the planning stages, but the governor’s office has legally binding control over the University of Iowa’s work, and can prohibit publication of that work for up to a year. Combine that with the state controlling the information that is conveyed to UI, and it looks for all the world like Iowa’s governor went ‘model-shopping’ for a state university that would give her the numbers she wants. (Now we wait to find out just how completely J. Bruce Harreld has corrupted academic research UI.)
* In and among today’s spate of University of Iowa press releases, we get our first visibility into what central administration is actually thinking about the coronavirus pandemic, as distinct from regent president Mike Richards’ insane statement that the fall semester will proceed as scheduled. From a press release titled: UI strategic planning process timeline extended to consider impacts of COVID-19:
The University of Iowa is extending the timeline for each phase of refreshing its strategic plan by six months. The UI Strategic Plan 2021–2026 is critical to the future success of the university, and the additional time will provide the campus an opportunity to better evaluate the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact while developing flexible strategies to respond.
Only one week ago (see 04/09/20 below) we took a look at the recently announced timetable for developing the new Ui Strategic Plan, so clearly things are moving fast in the administrative ranks. The fact that the timetable is being pushed back six months not only makes obvious sense, it is a good sign in two respects. First, J. Bruce Harreld’s modus operandi is to use any chaos to further his grand designs, and as such we would have expected him to use the pandemic to accelerate the planning process to a period of six hours over a single weekend. Second, and more importantly, the six-month delay in each phase of the development process suggests that central administration does not believe the university will have returned to normal by the time the fall semester launches in August. (According to the new timetable, the final plan won’t be submitted to the president and provost until December 21st of 2021, meaning over a year and a half from now.)
* Apparently committed to endless self-parody, the University of Iowa also announced today — in the middle of a global pandemic — that the gong-show grant process for the UI P3 Endowment continues apace: Timeline to submit proposals for UI utility P3 funding being finalized. Despite the brevity and general banality of this particular notice, however, it does include one critical stipulation that was foretold in these pages on multiple prior occasions. Instead of a ‘wide-open’ process available to everyone, the criteria for securing a grant is being constrained to favor the same greasy campus entrepreneurs who pushed this unholy deal through to fruition:
Proposals that leverage additional funding sources or grow new sustainable efforts in support of the strategic plan will be prioritized. In addition, sustainability of proposed activities beyond the proposed P3 funding support and proposal timeframe will be essential for these initiatives.
Translation: bring us ideas for starting new business at UI, or get the hell out. (As mentioned in prior posts, the entire UI P3 seems to be designed to generate seed money for new businesses, including initiatives proposed and managed by Jon Darsee — Ui’s inaugural Chief Innovation Officer, who was hand-picked by J. Bruce Harreld.)
If the University of Iowa had any sense it would do everything possible to give back the $1B that it borrowed at interest, which it now plans to invest in the markets at the dawn of what many believe will be a worldwide depression. Absent that level of self-control, however, UI should designate any proceeds from the UI P3 endowment for help in mitigating damage from the pandemic. That the university has signaled no intent to do so, and is in fact hoarding that $1B in cash, tells you everything you will ever need to know about the moral and ethical leanings of the people who are in charge of the University of Iowa at this time. (In the context of the UI P3, the coronavirus pandemic simply does not exist.)
* Following the TaJuan Wilson debacle –,and J. Bruce Harreld kicking diversity, equity and inclusion out of the president’s office — the university of Iowa is back on track to hire Wilson’s replacement, after first hedging about whether he would be replaced at all: Search firm for new associate vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion to meet virtually with stakeholders.
* As to finding a new dean for the Tippie College of Business, that process is on a lightning-fast (and now virtual) track: Tippie College of Business dean search finalists to visit campus virtually for open forums.
* Speaking of the pandemic, there are several daunting issues looming on the horizon for the Iowa Board of Regents, including particularly the question of legal liability if the board insists on opening the state campuses in the fall. Between then and now, however, we also have to navigate Governor Reynolds’ absurd coronavirus-assessment criteria, including determinations about whether a shelter-in-place order should be issued for a given (and largely meaningless) region of the state. To underscore the lunacy here, note that to qualify as an ‘outbreak’ in Iowa, a healthcare facility must have three or more residents/patients test positive for COVID-19, but having three employees test positive does not trigger that same designation. In any business context, the criteria for designating an ‘outbreak’ is not actually a specific number of employees, but rather ten percent — meaning 99 employees could test positive at a business employing 1,000 workers, and that would not be considered an outbreak.
Now consider that the University of Iowa has literally thousands of employees on the main campus, and also at UIHC. Were that same ten-percent threshold applied it is conceivable that there could be hundreds of positive COVID-19 tests on the UI campus without triggering any official designation of an outbreak. And yet it’s not at all clear whether a state-funded university would even be considered a business, or how that might impact any official designation. These open questions in turn lead back to the biggest question of all, which is how the state plans to address questions of legal liability if it does reopen the state schools. If someone — including a paying student, or a fan at a football game — contracts COVID-19 after the state gives the all-clear, who is legally responsible? Because if it is the student-patient or fan-patient, I’m not sure why anyone in their right mind would pay for the privilege of being exposed to potentially lethal risks for which they themselves will also have to assume responsibility.
* From Aj Taylor at KIOW FM: The Pandemics Effect on University Enrollment:
A new national survey by the consulting firm Simpson Scarborough says one in five high school seniors believes he or she won’t attend college this fall because of the public health emergency.
There will be a lot more reporting and no end of surveys about college enrollment for the 2020-2021 academic year. If this holds up, a twenty-percent hit across the board would be catastrophic, yet I’m hard-pressed to imagine more students thinking they will attend college next year as the national and global economy seizes. We are living through a world-wide financial heart attack, and have no real conception of the toll that will exact, or how long the recovery will take irrespective of the pandemic.
More here from Susan Adams at Forbes.com:
Almost all of the college students surveyed, 97%, said their schools had switched to online learning. Most of those students rated their experience of virtual classes as poor. When asked how online instruction compared to live classes, 50% said it was “worse” and 13% said “a lot worse.” Only 5% said it was “better.”
When the high school students were asked how likely it was that they will go to college in the fall as they had planned, a fifth of respondents said it was likely or highly likely that they would not attend because of the pandemic. An additional 11% said it was too soon to say.
Notwithstanding J. Bruce Harreld’s embarrassing cheerleading, students can tell that the online education they’re getting is a pale imitation of the classroom instruction they paid for. The problem going forward is that colleges and universities will either have to make campuses safe so they can charge the insane prices they have always charged — which they probably can’t do by this fall — or they’re going to have to drop their prices to compensate for lack of instructional quality, which most of them will not do.
* From Aimee Breaux at the Iowa City Press-Citizen: Graduate student union asks University of Iowa for expanded health care, pay protections amid pandemic.
There are so many people on college and university campuses across the country who live on a shoestring in the best of times, and now that shoestring has been cut. I don’t know that anyone can come up with a national solution to problems like this, but I do know that the greedy slobs who run the University of Iowa are sitting on a billion dollars in cash.
04/15/20 — A slew of good, inter-related stories from the Daily Iowan today (which were all posted late yesterday)….
* From the DI’s Marissa Payne: Iowa’s public universities’ future funding uncertain as coronavirus strains state economy. From passage of the CARES act, UI is set to receive $16.2M in relief:
Asked about how and when those funds will be distributed, and to which campus units, UI media-relations Director Anne Bassett wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan, “The university is currently assessing how it might allocate the funds and will share more details when available.”
In a better world one might assume UI would use that money to meet its most-pressing needs. Unfortunately, because the school is run by conniving weasels, they are just as likely to use the pandemic as an excuse to kill off programs or personnel they wanted to get rid of anyway, while funneling new revenue streams to pet causes and crony suck-ups.
As for the students, here is the whammy waiting for them:
The regents base tuition rates in part on state appropriations under their multiyear tuition model. Resident undergraduate tuition rates increase by 3 percent per year if state appropriation requests are funded. If the state does not provide any additional funding, tuition increases by 3 percent plus Higher Education Price Index.
Regent spokesman Josh Lehman said in an email that “no decision has been made on tuition rates for the 2020-21 academic year, and given current circumstances, there is no timetable for that decision to be made.” He did not say whether the regents would consider hiking tuition above the range laid out in the model.
The regents will do whatever they’re told to do by the governor, but sharply increasing tuition in the face of an economic crash — which could turn into a full-fledged depression — creates problems of its own. (Problems the greedy Board of Regents should have been cognizant of all along, and positioned the schools to avoid.)
Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said the regents are aware of the hardships students and families face amid COVID-19, including job loss as businesses temporarily close and face unclear long-term revenue implications.
“If they increase tuition to a point where students can’t afford to go, we know that enrollments are going to suffer as a result of that, which ultimately affects the university’s overall budget,” she said.
No one knows how this will all turn out, but over the past four-plus years the Iowa Board of Regents has acted with consummate arrogance in plotting the future of the state schools. The board’s primary responsibility was to act prudently and defensively, protecting the schools from negative economic events. Instead, largely through serial predatory tuition hikes made possible by its monopoly control in Iowa, the board (and legislature) has left the state’s public universities with no room to maneuver on price when having lattitude would be invaluable. (And that’s before we start talking about the recklessness of UI borrowing a billion dollars in cash, to put that money to work in the now-teetering markets.)
* From the DI’s Eleanor Hildebrandt: University of Iowa Faculty Council voices concern on fall semester, tenure. Speaking of enrollment, the fall term is already hurtling toward the University of Iowa, and with it a slew of decisions the Board of Regents may be constitutionally incapable of making:
UI law Professor Caroline Sheerin said as the fall semester quickly approaches, it was important to her and her students to understand what options there will be for classes in the fall in order to make the best-informed decisions.
“[What I’m] hearing a lot from our students is about what is going to happen in the fall and that’s causing a lot of stress,” Sheerin said. “There’s so much uncertainty… Students are wondering if they should take a gap year or should [professors] take leave.”
However, state Board of Regents President Mike Richards has said the universities are planning for in-person classes and full campus operations in the fall 2020 semester. In the last regents meeting, conducted virtually, Richards said the governing board was “planning on a full, normal operation of our universities for the fall of 2020 semester. This includes in-person classes, reopening of residence halls, food service, and other campus services.”
In the best of times, asking students to commit $10K or more to a college or university is a big ask. Asking students to make such a financial commitment in the middle of a pandemic would seem to require offering both certainty and concessions on the part of the Board of Regents, which seems determined to provide neither.
* From the DI’s Lauren White: How the UI moved to virtual instruction in a matter of weeks. I can’t imagine the sudden spike in workload for Iowa’s information-technology department. Notwithstanding the inherent problem of moving some coursework online, to say nothing of Harreld’s idiotic assertions of unqualified success, the fact that UI was able to transition while only extending spring break one additional week is impressive.
* From the DI’s Hannah Pinkski: Opinion: College students deserve more than just a housing and dining refund. In her cogent op-ed, Pinski makes a compelling point:
While the UI understandably needs financial support to continue paying faculty and covering other operational expenses, students deserve to receive a partial refund of their tuition.
One reason students should be credited is because of the extended spring break that was put in place to give instructors the opportunity to convert their courses into an online format. However, this extra week will not be made up as the school year still ends the week of May 11.
If the tuition that students pay is supposed to cover a 16-week semester of learning, it seems unfair to charge students for an empty week of instruction. Thus, students should receive at least a fraction of the full amount they are paying.
In-state tuition for UI students is about $10K per year, out-of-state around $32K. Assuming 16 weeks of contracted instruction per semester, or 32 weeks per academic year, the loss of one week should result in a pro-rated refund of $312 for in-state students, and $1,000 for out-of-state students. Even allowing for regent-wide claims of instructional quality detailed in a recent posting (see 04/05/20 below), I don’t see any valid counterargument to Pinski’s point. (I don’t believe ISU and UNI extended their own spring breaks for a second week, so they would not be affected by any reimbursements at UI.)
* Also today, from the DI’s Kelsey Harrell: UI Health Care begins convalescent plasma clinical trial for COVID-19 patients. A good idea in any event, but also note:
The trial will also offer antibody testing for people who believe they had COVID-19 based on their symptoms but did not receive a test for the virus.
I wouldn’t want anyone to participate simply out of curiosity, but if you are one of the hundreds if not thousands of people in Iowa City/Johnson County who has been sick over the past few months, and you are sincere about donating plasma if you have a positive test for antibodies, I think you should consider being tested. (That’s particularly true if you sought testing due to an illness, but were denied. Knowing one way or the other could also materially affect your decision making going forward.)
04/14/20 — As a general observation, over the past week or so the daily confirmed coronavirus cases in Johnson County/Iowa City show that the community has been doing a good job of flattening the local curve. There are so many variables and unknowns with regard to testing that it is impossible to reach definitive conclusions about what is actually happening, but I would encourage everyone in JC/IC (and anywhere else) to continue strict social distancing and mitigation practices. In my own view there is growing evidence that the coronavirus pandemic will have a long tail in most locales, meaning it will persist and remain capable of resurgence if we assume we have won. (And the simplest way to test that hypothesis is simply to keep doing what we’re doing and see if things go south in areas of the state or country that decide the coast is clear.)
* From the Daily Iowan’s Josie Fischels: UI Health Care receives $2 million donation to fund COVID-19 expenses. This is obviously a generous act, but it is also worth remembering that only a little over a month ago the University of Iowa took possession of a billion dollars in cash, which could be spent of any pressing, life-saving need. Indeed, if UI wanted to save lives and garner positive PR in the process, it could purchase testing machines and hire staff and show the world how testing protocols can be implemented anywhere in the world…but apparently sitting on that money and drawing as little attention as possible to those staggering resources is more important. (That money is destined to be put into an endowment — at a time of cosmic economic uncertainty, no less — in order to fund a gong-show grant process which will involve an estimated $15M or so each year, at a school with an annual operating budget of $4B.)
* From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Regents weigh admission challenges during ‘unprecedented’ coronavirus pandemic. If I didn’t already know that the Iowa Board of Regents is an inherently compromised government agency teeming with political cronies, I might have sympathy for the complex decisions the board will have to wrestle with in the coming months. Because I know the regents don’t really care about the students, faculty and staff at the state schools, however, and generally see Iowa’s public universities as state-sponsored revenue generators — meaning businesses — my sympathy lies with those who will inevitably be exploited and abused by whatever decisions the board makes.
As to the specific question of admissions in the age of COVID-19, however, I don’t think that will be a particularly difficult issue to resolve. Much more pressing will be the issue of follow-through in terms of enrollment, along with the complexities of hosting students, faculty and staff on a communal campus if quick and accurate testing is not available. (Absent dumb luck in finding an already approved remedy, there is no chance — none — that a vaccine will be available at any point during the 2020-2021 academic year.)
* From the Daily Iowan’s Sarah Watson: Johnson County scales up COVID-19 contact tracing staff in public health department as Iowa’s cases steadily increase. Speaking of coronavirus testing, contact tracing will be a necessary complement everywhere, but particularly in communities which experience a great deal of turnover. On that point, one might assume that the local municipal authorities and University of Iowa faculty and staff would be pursuing an integrated approach, thus increasing their number and reach while accelerating the learning curve for both bureaucracies. One thing I have learned over the past four-plus years, however, and particularly during the coronavirus outbreak, is that even though the University of Iowa is in Iowa City and in Johnson County, it largely operates in its own little fantasy world of world-class manure. To be fair, however, it’s also hard not to think that the current leadership at UI has something to do with that, and if people of integrity were hired instead of crony toads, they might seize the opportunity to actually save lives.
04/13/20 — At the beginning of April the Iowa Governor’s office hinted to Iowa lawmakers that new, internal “modeling” about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic would soon be forthcoming. As reported by the Des Moines Register’s Barbara Rodriguez, on 04/03/20:
A top aide for Gov. Kim Reynolds told lawmakers this week that the administration plans to release a projection soon that could show more information about coronavirus cases in Iowa.
Sara Craig, chief of staff to Reynolds, told Democratic state lawmakers on a call Wednesday that the state expected to have the new estimates next week. A recording of the call was obtained by the Des Moines Register.
“We’re hoping that by very early next week, we’ll have some modeling to be able to show Iowans,” Craig told legislators.
Pat Garrett, a spokesman for Reynolds, declined to comment. Reynolds, when asked about the projections during her Friday news conference, did not provide more information.
Early the following week no new modeling was released. During one of Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ then-daily briefings about the coronavirus pandemic, however, there was an odd mention of a pending “agreement” between the state and the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health (COPH). As reported by Paul Brennan at Little Village, on 04/07/20:
A reporter asked Reynolds if she could provide the public with the state’s projection of how many cases of COVID-19 there will be in Iowa.
The governor turned the question over to Reisetter. The short answer is the state doesn’t currently have a projection to provide to the public.
We’re working on modeling, and we’re looking at an agreement with the University of Iowa College of Public Health. We’ve been actively working to get that agreement in place.
The first part of that work will involve analyzing the existing models that exist [sic], like the University of Washington model that we have talked about previously. There are a number of different models out there.
We’ll first be asking them to analyze that information that currently exists, and then from there the plan is to transition into more modeling and forecasting for Iowa to the extent that there’s interest in continuing to modify those existing models.
So, we’re working on it. We don’t have it in hand yet. But its actively work in progress.
Reisetter said there is no “firm date” for when the projections and models will be ready, but “we hope to have it in the days and weeks to come.”
One week later the repeatedly promised state modeling has still not been revealed, but today we did learn more about the “agreement” that was struck between the Iowa Department of Public Health and the UI College of Public Health — as reported by the AP’s Ryan Foley: Peak nearing, Iowa begins contract to create COVID-19 models.
The contract obtained by The Associated Press calls for the college to produce predictive models within two weeks of receiving the department’s patient data, or on another mutually agreed upon schedule.
The goal is to help Gov. Kim Reynolds and her aides predict the severity of the outbreak and make decisions about specific mitigation strategies. But the number of cases is expected to peak later this month and it’s unclear whether any model will be completed before then.
The contract outlines an Iowa-specific model that will predict the number, severity and timing of cases, including hospitalizations and deaths. It calls for adapting the model to predict how shifts in strategies, such as a stay-at-home order, might “change public health outcomes.”
The contract says the model is intended for use by the department “internally with other state agencies to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.” It bars the university from publishing any findings before April 2021 unless approved by the state epidemiologist.
The contract’s first priority is to have college experts examine existing models, such as a widely-cited one from the University of Washington. An analysis of those models was due in recent days.
Given the cronyism linking the Iowa Governor’s office, the Iowa Board of Regents, and leadership at the University of Iowa, we would be remiss if we did not consider the potential political benefits in this agreement, particularly for a governor who is reeling as a result of her failure to aggressively respond to a global pandemic. First, it is not at all clear why a contract needed to be signed, given that the governor and the state’s flagship public university both ostensibly work for the people of Iowa. Indeed, the idea that the Iowa Department of Public Health needed a signed contract to convey data to the state’s UI College of Public Health — let alone during a crisis — strikes me as either lunacy or de facto evidence of corrupt intent. (This is not normal.)
On the other hand, if the governor’s primary objective was not to save Iowans, but to make sure the state’s flagship public university would not make her look bad, then a legally binding contract which includes a delay clause would obviously makes sense in that corrupt context. Speaking of which, way back in mid-March the university was already touting its ability to ‘Mode[l] the spread of infectious disease‘, yet here we are a month later and only now is the governor’s office determined to exploit that academic advantage. (Provided, of course, that the university is precluded from releasing the results of its research to anyone other than the governor for up to a year.)
Second, in terms of controlling the actual production of any new modeling, the governor’s office can now apparently prevent the University of Iowa from producing any state coronavirus model simply by failing to deliver IDPH “patient data” to the university. That would prevent the two-week countdown clock from being triggered, meaning this deal could effectively be used to sideline the university entirely until next April. Even if new modeling is produced, however, the governor can elect to only use that information internally, with no obligation to share it to the public in whole, in part, or even accurately, if doing otherwise might help the governor avoid responsibility for her failed actions.
As for the terms of the contract, one can only imagine the hard bargaining that took place:
The college won’t be paid under the contract but will get the department’s data for free.
It is a measure of how intrinsically corrupt Iowa state government has become that two taxpayer-funded departments, which should be working openly and seamlessly to protect the citizens of the state of Iowa, are signatories to a contract in which the transmission of state data between those departments is considered a financial benefit in itself. Data that should be public, and should flow naturally from the IDPH to the COPH — let alone as a matter of the gravest possible public interest in the current context — is instead being treated like proprietary information in the private sector. As for the University of Iowa, not only is it willing to magnanimously forego payment in exchange for this incredible in-kind largesse, but even though the COPH and everything else at UI belongs to the state, and as such is already effectively being paid, it just agreed to do its work on a proprietary basis.
As to who specifically signed this incestuous contract between two departments of Iowa state government, I don’t know but I would be interested to find out. (Not surprised, necessarily, but still interested.)
* Late yesterday the Daily Iowan published a letter to the editor from the CEO of UI Hospitals and Clinics: Guest Opinion: Iowans, there is hope. Included in that editorial were the following items of note:
“We have been able to create our own internal testing capacity on multiple platforms. At the moment, we are performing more than 100 tests a day, with more testing capability to come.”
“At this point, less than 10% of the patients we’ve tested at UI Health Care have been positive for the virus. That said, we do expect that the number of COVID-19 cases in Iowa will rise over the weeks to come, and we are prepared.”
Having in-house testing is good, but obviously the capacity needs to increase and be much more distributed across the state. It’s also reassuring that the UIHC CEO is anticipating that the number of cases in Iowa “will rise over the weeks to come”, when Iowa’s governor and others have explicitly been calling for a peak at that same time. Nobody knows when we are going to hit a peak, and because of inadequate testing we may not even be able to identify it when it happens.
* From the Daily Iowan’s Eleanor Hildebrandt: Virtual learning changes how professors test students.
Again — and not surprisingly, despite Pollyanna comments from illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld — there is an ongoing shakedown process with regard to online coursework. The good news going forward is that between this practical trial-by-fire, and the upcoming summer break, the state schools should be better positioned to offer courses via the internet in the fall, and that in turn may make the regents less predisposed to rush everyone back to campus.
* From the Daily Iowan’s Lauren White: UI Health Care tightens restrictions on patient visitation. Obviously not ideal, and potentially disorienting or frightening for some patients, but limiting interactions not only decreases the risk of intra-hospital transmission, it decreases the amount of time and effort that must be devoted to everything from security patrols to housekeeping to maintenance. Anything and everything that can be done to minimize workload while maintaining the highest possible medical standards should be done, even if it looks hysterical after the fact.
04/11/20 — In our collective, trademark national mindlessness, and goaded by market forces masquerading as government officials, we seem to be accelerating toward a moment at which we will attempt to resume our normal lives, even though the coronavirus pandemic continues unabated in all but a few suspect corners of the globe. And yet, that is also perfectly in keeping with our deeply deluded libertarian leanings, which also demand that we maintain one of the highest legal blood-alcohol levels on the planet, while wielding more guns per-capita that any place other than a sparsely-staffed armory. Which is to say that even life-saving restrictions are seen as an imposition in America, and as long as we get to keep our booze and guns it is not our problem if a bunch of strangers — including innocents — die of a certainty.
Allowing the piece-meal, slow-motion, relatively anonymous suicide of various groups of pandemic-oblivious Americans, however — including, perversely, the religiously devout — is not the same as compelling Americans to socially embrace, and here our libertarian leanings prove to be an asset. For low-wage workers staring into the abyss of a pandemic depression, they may have no choice but to accept risks they would otherwise not accept, but moving up the professional pay scale it will be much harder to tell educated white collar workers that it’s safe to come back to the office and make money for the boss in-person. Which is to say that bosses may in turn be compelled to do more than dictate policy, particularly if workers notice those bosses are still perpetually hiding out in their executive suites.
The same would hold true in the public sector, of course, which brings us to the courageous Iowa Board of Regents — meaning the nine appointed members, but also the tightly knit professional staff of eighteen full-time employees, who are in turn led by crusading Executive Director and CEO Mark Braun. With regard to the regent overlords, it would be difficult for them to compel the state universities to reopen if they themselves were not willing to demonstrate the coast is clear by holding meetings in regular public fashion. Fortuitously, because the next meeting is scheduled for June 2nd through 4th in Iowa City, which is over a month and a half from now, that would be an opportune time for the board to demonstrate just how much faith they have in the premise that the pandemic has ended.
In fact, because the board would insist on proving that they would not ask anyone to take risks they themselves were unwilling to take, the board would have to meet in-person on those dates, because that is also the last scheduled public meeting prior to commencement of the 2020-2021 academic year. (The next in-person meeting will not take place until September 23rd and 24th.) Likewise, XD/CEO Braun would certainly want to bring the regent staff back to work in the board’s Urbandale offices, working regular in-person days, taking regular in-person meetings, and having regular in-person chats by the water cooler, just like old times. A solid three months of that, following the early June board meeting, and it would be hard for anyone at the state schools to complain about being called back to campus.
Still, in concert with that show of bureaucratic mettle, we might expect that everyone in central administration at the University of Iowa — including particularly the members of executive leadership — would also spend the summer working in close physical proximity, as usual. Having thus demonstrated by their own personal courage and conviction that there is no need for concern, the campus could be opened for business as usual, including plenty of in-person, close-proximity, administrative social interaction with the tens of thousands of students descending on campus from all points of the global compass. Indeed, what a reassuring sight it would be to see J. Bruce Harreld out on the Pentacrest, eagerly shaking hands day after day with hundreds of faculty, staff and especially students — who are of course paying customers, and have no obligation to return at all — in his solemn determination to establish some modicum of faith in his heretofore rudderless and invisible leadership.
04/10/20 — Following up on yesterday’s notes about UI AD Gary Barta, two stories today from ESPN….
First, a look at the problem of holding large-scale sporting events in the time of COVID-19: Coronavirus, social distancing will change the way we attend games. Quoted extensively in the article is Andrew Peterson, who is initially identified as “a professor and sports medicine specialist at the University of Iowa”, then subsequently also identified as “the Iowa Hawkeyes’ head team physician” for football. As to the substance of Peterson’s comments, they are reasonably lucid on the difficulty of transitioning from a pandemic to stadium entertainment:
When President Donald Trump said this past weekend that stadiums and arenas would reopen “sooner rather than later,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom — who has five MLB teams, four NBA teams, three MLS teams, three NFL teams, three NHL teams and the storied Rose Bowl and L.A. Coliseum in his state — shot back and said he doesn’t anticipate that happening for football games come fall. Santa Clara County chief executive officer Dr. Jeffrey Smith said Tuesday that he doesn’t “expect to have any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving.”
So do Newsom and Smith have the right mindset?
“I do think some of these half-measures of rolling things out slowly, playing in empty stadiums, they do make some sense,” said Peterson, who is also the Iowa Hawkeyes’ head team physician. “Nothing’s going to be perfect at first, but turning things all the way back on before this is gone in the community is going to be hard.”
From a revenue perspective, of course, such “half-measures” would be huge because they would allow for broadcast and advertising revenue, which are huge components of funding for both college and professional teams. While I do not know what percentage of revenue is derived from the gate — meaning in-person attendance — the problem of putting bodies in the stands are considerably more complex, and may be unsolvable for the foreseeable future. Still, although Barta and his fellow AD’s would rather have something versus nothing, there is going to be a lot of pressure to allow fans to attend the games in some fashion.
In addition to having easier access to hand sanitizer, Waldman agrees with limiting attendance in a way that would allow for two seats in between fans. People also congregate around concession stands and drink stands — should those be open?
“The level of risk in the individual community needs to be determined. And I think that there are going to be, within every community of sports fans, there are going to be some who are more risk-takers and some more risk-averse,” Waldman, the global health professor who has also worked with the CDC and the WHO, said.
While all of that sounds sensible, the second ESPN story points out the main problem with allowing fans to attend games: Poll: Sports fans won’t attend games without coronavirus vaccine. Specifically:
Some 72% of Americans polled said they would not attend if sporting events resumed without a vaccine for the coronavirus. The poll, which had a fairly small sample size of 762 respondents, was released Thursday by Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business.
When polling respondents who identified as sports fans, 61% said they would not go to a game without a vaccine. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.6%.
Here we see the problem with Peterson’s framing about “risk-takers”. If you allow fans themselves to decide whether it is safe to attend in-person games, then you’re really self-selecting for people who are willing take on a higher “level of risk”, and it’s likely that their risk-taking will not be limited to the sports they attend. In the absence of instantaneous on-site testing, athletic venues would inevitably host concentrated groups of people who dismiss social distancing and other mitigation efforts, thus increasing the risk of transmission and outbreaks in and from those groups. (And that’s all before we start talking about alcohol.)
Even if fans were banned for the foreseeable future, however, that really only kicks the can down the road because the same issues are relevant for athletes and coaches, and it’s likely they might break along the same percentage lines if they were polled. Here, though, the difference between professional athletes and college athletes may play a part, perhaps to the detriment of the amateurs. I don’t know what they NFL Player’s Association would have to say about playing games, and I don’t know if scabs would happily take the place of players who opted not to play, but college players don’t have a union, and even though they have more legal rights than ever before, I don’t know what options college athletes would have if the suits in academia and TV decided it was perfectly safe for them to play.
I am, however, confident of two things. First, that we’re going to find out the answers to all of these questions in the coming months, and quite a few people in college athletics are going to turn out to be miserable human beings. Second, whatever Gary Barta decides to do, and however people like Andrew Peterson abet or impede that agenda, the most important factor in whether UI football will proceed in any form this fall is the possibility that Barta might ultimately end up killing Kirk Ferentz.
04/09/20 — Despite his deluded and largely generic presentation to the Iowa Board of Regents last week, I still don’t have a fix on whether J. Bruce Harreld is actively involved in day-to-day decision making at the University of Iowa, or is simply functioning as a grossly overpaid figurehead. If the former, then this move to produce the new UI Strategic Plan will be corrupt down to the punctuation. If the latter — and particularly if Provost Montse Fuentes is in charge of the process — then this could be a galvanizing process at a critical time. (Notably, Harreld’s name appears nowhere in this UI press release.)
Unfortunately, given that regent president Mike Richards was just reappointed for another two-year term, and Harreld is still nominally president, it is likely that the new UI Strategic Plan will simply advance their entrepreneurial agenda. Revenue generation and ‘entrepreneurial activities’ (as Harreld likes to call them) will be woven into the very fabric of the University of Iowa, effectively converting the school from a public research university into a privatized business which can raise capital on a whim by increasing tuition and fees. The state will sell accredited degrees, then use that money not to improve education, but to offset tax revenue, which will in turn allow the governor and legislature to expand corporate tax breaks even more. (You can never incentivize the flooding of Iowa’s waterways with nitrates enough.)
The good news in this press release, however, is that the development process for the new five-year strategic plan is scheduled to end on May 1st of 2021, meaning just over a year from now. That is not only a marked departure from the rushed development of the previous plan — which Harreld jammed through in record time, after first attempting to do so in an even shorter time frame measured in weeks — but it allows for the entire campus to be included and invested in the outcome. I think that’s particularly important given the current healthcare crisis, to say nothing of the fact that we currently have no idea how that crisis will be resolved.
* From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: University of Iowa Children’s Hospital admits first 2 coronavirus patients.
* UI AD Gary Barta made the press rounds today, two days after the Minnesota Board of Regents gnashed its teeth over the coming academic year — including, particularly the revenue-generating engine that is college football — and in general I thought Barta managed to be uncharacteristically un-Barta-like. In the write-up by the Gazette’s J.R. Ogden there was a passing nod to the pandemic-resolution fantasy put forward by regent president Richards last week, but even that didn’t seem particularly convincing:
“We are, right now, expecting to have a football season,” he said, adding he’s “really uncomfortable making any predictions … because of the unknowns.”
He said the safety of the student-athletes comes first, along with the coaches and the staff. And, of course, the fans.
“It’s going to be driven by bringing people back safely,” he said. “… if we can’t insure that, that will hold up having a football season.
As an employee of the state it’s understandable that Barta would follow the board’s optimistic party line, but in this and other reports about his comments it’s clear that he doesn’t expect the season to kick off in September, or even for UI athletes to be cleared to practice before then. Like Minnesota, the UI Athletic Department seems to be looking at a range of possible outcomes and trying to plan for each — which is kind’a what you would expect from people who work for a public research university. (More here from the Daily Iowan’s Robert Read, here from Travis Hines at Hawk Central, and here from Rob Howe at Hawkeye Nation.
* I have no idea if this study is solid or will hold up over time, but at the very least it remind me that having UI’s VP for Medical Affairs, J. Brooks Jackson, defend the governor’s inadequate response to the pandemic by claiming supply chains would be disrupted, was a really bad idea: High Contagiousness and Rapid Spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2.
04/08/20 — A nice piece here from the Daily Iowan’s Marissa Payne, with photos from the DI’s Katie Goodale: Empty University of Iowa campus, Iowa City ‘eerie’ for those in town.
* From the Daily Iowan Editorial Board: Hawkeyes, stay home or help out.
* From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: More than 500 students remain in Iowa’s public university residence halls.
It has to be a bit surreal living in those big buildings now that they’re mostly empty, but I’m glad the universities didn’t kick students out on the street if they didn’t have a place to go. Nobody could have foreseen this coming — and I’m not just talking about the army of regent lawyers who are, at this very minute, adding new pandemic clauses to the room-and-board contracts that the next flock of students will sign down the road. (Probably way down.)
04/07/20 — From the Daily Iowan’s Addie Bushnell: Hawkeyes studying arts struggle to adapt to distance learning:
[Avery] Nabholz isn’t the only Hawkeye feeling the effects of COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Dance and music majors no longer have a space to practice, art students lack important materials provided by the university, and many professors have had to completely rewrite their syllabi as the UI community adjusts to remote instruction.
One of the most damaging aspects of J. Bruce Harreld’s premeditated lie that online instruction at UI is just as good as on-campus instruction, is that it invalidates the students, faculty and staff who are suddenly having to confront the limits of online learning — to say nothing of doing so during a global pandemic. And yet that is who Harreld has always been: a crony team player who lies in exchange for $50K a month in taxpayer dollars. It would be infuriating if it wasn’t so predictably pathetic.
Leadership — real leadership, which J. Bruce Harreld knows nothing about — doesn’t come from keeping up appearances and projecting a utopian fantasy onto the world around you. That’s what family members do when they deny trouble in the family, and that instinct in itself can be damaging for individual family members who are suffering. None of this was Harreld’s fault, but his public response — literally the only substantive comments he has uttered in close to two months — diminishes him to the point of irrelevance. If people show you who they are in a crisis, then J. Bruce Harreld is the crony tool we thought he was all along. After four-and-a-half years on the University of Iowa campus, he has developed zero empathy for the students who toil there, and continues to represent his crony minders with single-minded zeal.
* I have no idea what this means, but it doesn’t sound good. From today’s coronavirus presser with the governor and her crack pandemic staff — including Iowa Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter:
“We are working on modeling and we are looking at an agreement with the University of Iowa College of Public Health. We’ve been actively working to get that agreement in place. The first part of that work will involve analyzing existing models – like the University of Washington model that we’ve talked about,” she said.
The plan, Reisitter said, is that once the existing data has been analyzed then work developing or a new or modifying an existing model. That process could take some time.
“We are working on it, we don’t have it in hand yet but is an active work in progress,” she said. “In terms of the modeling and the forecasting that does take some time. It’s not something that can be done in a day or two.”
At the end of last week the governor and her team teased the rollout of their own pandemic model, which they said they would reveal this week. I have no idea what Reisitter means by an “agreement”, or why some agreement would be necessary with the University of Iowa, when it is in fact owned by the state. Having said that, it is also clear that the governor’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is largely political, and UI probably does not want to be roped into providing pseudo-scientific justifications for the governor’s strategy. With the school having already pimped out J. Brooks Jackson to defend the governor’s actions, it may be that the university wants some distance on whatever model the governor will claim has great scientific merit, even as it spits out numbers and projections favorable to her political future.
* There will be a lot of stories like this around the U.S., but there is also a critical difference between how Iowa and Minnesota are responding to the pandemic: Gophers athletics revenue could see $75M hit from coronavirus:
The University of Minnesota Board of Regents’ emergency meeting Tuesday estimated the coronavirus pandemic could strip Gophers athletics of anywhere between $10 million and $75 million.
Using “very early estimated revenue losses,” the U outlined three scenarios in how the department’s finances might unfold amid uncertainty on when regular athletic activities could return in the COVID-19 crisis.
Whatever hell the Minnesota regents feel they’re about to go through, here we have a sober assessment of what might happen in the coming months, and that assessment comes — appropriately — from an emergency meeting of that board. Now contrast that with this Pollyanna statement from Iowa’s regent president only last week:
[Mike] Richards says they will get everyone back to campus when they can. “I want everyone to know that we are planning on a full normal operation of our universities for the fall of 2020 semester. This includes in-person classes, re-opening of the residence halls, food service, and other campus services,” according to Richards.
It is a certainty that Iowa’s board is thinking ahead about necessary contingencies, but the public messaging could not be more unrealistic. No emergency meeting scheduled, promises the board president clearly can’t keep, and yet that’s perfectly consistent with how the crony Board of Regents does business. There isn’t any need for deliberation because the board doesn’t deliberate. It just does what it’s told by the governor’s office, and the governor has yet to commit to action.
* From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, an update on pandemic patients at UIHC: University of Iowa caring for 17 coronavirus inpatients.
* From the Daily Iowan’s Riley Davis: UI professor researches how to cope with the stress of working from home.
* I don’t trust the pandemic numbers from China at all, but if you want a counterbalancing glimpse at what life is like when a city comes out of lockdown, this is a fairly sober assessment even if it isn’t the whole story: China Ends Wuhan Lockdown, but Normal Life Is a Distant Dream. Even though our federal and state governments faltered for months, we still got a jump on what Wuhan experienced, so the damage here should not be as great. The virus will persist, however, and because of that our collective efforts at mitigation will necessarily have to continue.
04/05/20 — From The Courier’s Kristin Guess: On campus to online: UNI professors embrace internet instruction. Note particularly this comment about instructional quality in the time of the coronavirus:
“I don’t know that I’ve ever been more impressed with the people I work with,” said Ryan McGeough, Ph.D., Cedar Falls native and head of the communications department at UNI. “Students are getting what we promised — a high quality education — and we recognize that most of these students didn’t sign up for online classes.”
Now compare that last bit to this, from Harreld’s scripted remarks to the Iowa Board of Regents three days ago [5:20:25]:
So what does that mean for our students? Simply put, that means that their educational experience at the University of Iowa is not suffering at all, with our shift to a hundred percent online learning, and they can be assured the top-flight academics they’re used to are and will continue.
As to where this concerted emphasis about the quality of online learning is coming from, we don’t have to be online rocket-science students to figure that out. Were the state schools to acknowledge that the quality of instruction was less than it had been when students were on campus, students might rightly want some of their money back. Unfortunately, the very thought of refunding revenue from tuition and fees would give the regents and university presidents a collective heart attack, so the schools are out in force, making clear that there is no basis for any assertion that the online cobbled-together online education students are getting now is anything other than first-rate.
And we can see that linkage clearly in this announcement from Iowa State, about costs that the school will and will not refund:
“We will not issue refunds for tuition and mandatory fees,” [ISU President Wendy] Wintersteen wrote in an email to students on Monday. “While the transition to virtual instruction represents a significant change, both for you, and for our faculty, we are committed to offering a high-quality educational experience, and maintaining similar levels of academic rigor regardless of how your courses are delivered.”
Although the motive for insisting that online courses are just as good as in-person classes is consistent at all three state schools, the critical question is whether that is, strategically, a smart argument to make. Personally, not only do I think it is not smart, I think it is potentially much more damaging to the regent universities over the long haul than any risk of individual or class-action litigation over the quality of instruction during the remainder of the 2019-2020 spring term. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Iowa Board of Regents should be making exactly the opposite argument about online instructional quality, but we will get to that in a moment.
To be painfully fair to the regents and university presidents, they may also be looking ahead to the 2020-2021 academic year, and the possibility that the campuses will not be open in August — despite this week’s bold promise to the contrary by regent President Mike Richards. Were the state schools compelled to continue online-only classes in the fall, the marketing weasels at the state schools would want everyone to claim there would be no diminution of educational excellence in order to keep students enrolled, while the execs would still be freaked out that students and families might litigate tuition and fees in that environment. By aggressively asserting that online instruction is just as good as in-class instruction, the regent universities may indeed feel — ironically –that they are inoculating themselves against such threats from their pesky students.
The first and most obvious problem with all of this defensive positioning is that what the regent schools are saying is, objectively, a lie. The instruction that students at UI and the other state schools will now receive will indeed suffer because of the move to online education, and how could it not? The idea that an entire university could suddenly shift to online learning across its entire campus, with no lead time, yet continue to deliver the exact same quality, is an administrative fantasy at best — and that’s particularly true for students in the performing arts, including collaborative disciplines such as theater, dance and music.
As to the threat of litigation, it is indeed possible that one or more students, parents or guardians might sue for a partial refund if the state schools acknowledged that instructional quality will suffer online, but that’s not the question. Setting aside the cost of bringing such a case, which would almost certainly exceed any potential benefit on an individual basis, the critical question is whether such litigation would succeed, and I think the answer — decisively — is that it would not. The reason is that the COVID-19 pandemic is a real crisis, and in responding to that emergency the state schools could not only claim exigent circumstances, but make a very strong case that they responded heroically to what was effectively an act of God. The schools could even point out that they did not simply vacate the remainder of the semester and pocket the tuition and fees they had received to that point, but instead moved heaven and earth to ensure that the semester itself would not be lost academically.
As for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year, if the state schools are compelled to continue online courses in August, an admission today that online learning is less than optimal could be met with a commensurate discount in the fall. Because the state campuses would cost significantly less to run, it’s not even clear that the schools would necessarily lose money even if they made it cheaper to enroll. As for the University of Iowa specifically — and as detailed endlessly in these pages — it has been clearing $35M or more each year as compared to 2016 baseline, and that’s apart from the $1B in cash that the school is sitting on since the UI P3 closed in early March. With regard to both overall revenue and cash flow, the University of Iowa could clearly afford to offer a cut in tuition for the fall semester if online classes continued, and that’s true even if the pandemic abated during the term and on-campus classes resumed.
Given the obvious near-term legal, financial, marketing and recruitment advantages in insisting that online courses are just as good as in-class instruction, why would Iowa’s regent universities want to make the opposite case? Well, the answer to that question is so harrowing that if you work for the Board of Regents, or in central administration at one of the state schools, you should probably stop reading now. Because whenever the pandemic lifts, and the world gets back to normal, we are not only going to see the second great virtual land-rush to build out online learning and take market share, but at this very moment every college and university in America is — for the first time — actually making the case for permanently shifting away from on-campus education. Which in turn raises a lot of pointed questions about what we will do with all of the resort-like campuses that higher-education has built up over the past twenty years or so, in an arms race to entice young human beings to reside and study in close physical proximity.
From time to time I have written about various aspects of the online learning question — see here and here, and even a pre-Harreld post from back in 2014, titled, Online Education and the Commitment Problem. The one key factor that keeps online education from truly doing battle with campus education is that there is still almost universal agreement that if you are committing to the full-time pursuit of a two-year or four-year degree, doing so in-person is simply better. Not more convenient, certainly, and obviously not cheaper, but as an intensive process of personal development, online classes simply cannot compete with in-person classes and instruction. And yet incredibly, Iowa’s regent universities are now emphatically insisting that is not the case.
Now…I know what you’re thinking. Perhaps this is an opportunity for Iowa’s public universities to seize online market share themselves, thus not only enduring but capitalizing on the pandemic. And in fact, here is someone from the University of Iowa making that very point, in an article by Emily Nelson on the Iowa Now website — only four days ago:
“We might find that students and faculty learn a little more about the benefits of teaching and learning online,” Cargill says. “Faculty who may have resisted teaching online before might realize, ‘Yeah, this actually works quite well. I might do this more in the future.’ That, in turn, allows the University of Iowa to increase its reach in the state and nationally. We can offer courses to individuals who wouldn’t normally be able to take them because they can’t come to Iowa City.
The first problem with that line of thinking is that at this exact moment in history every college and university in the United States is thinking the same thing. Not only are they all eyeing the online market with renewed interest, however, but prominent schools with national brand names would instantly crush any of Iowa’s state schools in a competitive marketplace. (Add to that their ability to leverage prior associations with powerful companies like Amazon and Google — which would be all too happy to help build out a national online higher-ed monopoly — and there is zero chance that the University of Iowa could establish and hold an online beachhead over time.)
As I wrote back in 2018, while looking at Mike Crow’s empire-building at Arizona State University:
(In such scaling, however, there are trade-offs which are not necessarily good for every student, or for the higher-ed industry. First, there will be a lot of market consolidation, meaning many small colleges will go out of business. Second, consolidation means education will be controlled more and more by fewer and fewer people, who may be primarily interested in making money. Third, as physical locations come to mean less and less, branding will ultimately dominate, meaning ASU could take the lead, only to be crushed by Harvard, Yale, or Facebook University. Don’t laugh.)
Again, it is perfectly understandable that invested individuals at the University of Iowa, or at the other state schools, might want to put the best face possible on the sudden shift to online instruction. From a strategic perspective, however — meaning at the level of central administration — not only is it unlikely that UI could take appreciable market share in the online learning space, but the most pressing problem facing UI is actually exacerbated by efforts to convince students that their online courses are just as good as in-person classes. Instead, what the University of Iowa and the other regent schools should be laser-focused on today is laying the groundwork to persuade large numbers of pandemic-traumatized students to come back to campuses where they will be required to mill about with people who might inadvertently kill them.
Whatever the classical barriers to entry for the higher-ed industry, the coronavirus pandemic strikes at the heart of what most people find attractive about campus life. Where gatherings large and small are a hallmark of the collegiate experience — from sporting events to lecture halls to bars to dorms to restaurants and cafeterias — all of those activities now constitute a threat which can be instantly alleviated by pursuing online coursework. Which is of course great in the current compulsory context, and an absolute nightmare for college and university campuses across the country when students and families are deciding what to do about enrolling for classes in the fall.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a life-altering experience for everyone, and if students and families think they can get the same degree online that they were getting by showing up on campus and paying for room and board — which is precisely the message the Iowa Board of Regents is currently sending — then some of those student will understandably gravitate to the safer option. Compounding that problem, however, once students decide that an online degree is equally viable, they will also look beyond Iowa’s borders, and past the monopoly that the Board of Regents holds on four-year universities. At that point UI’s frequent plea that its over-priced, in-state degrees are still cheaper than its academic peers will be truly meaningless, as more and more students begin to shop for their education based on the actual cost of the coursework.
So how many current and prospective UI students might opt out of a state university in the coming year, even if totally honest and credible people like regent president Mike Richards or illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld swear up and down that the campuses are perfectly safe? Well, I obviously don’t know, but even a drop in enrollment of several hundred students would constitute a significant loss of revenue at any of those schools. (Currently Iowa State has about 36,000 students, UI about 32,000, and the University of Northern Iowa about 12,000, so even a one-percent drop as a result of the coronavirus pandemic would be a meaningful hit.)
Unfortunately, the instinct to lie, and the attendant conviction that any lie can be neutralized by a subsequent lie, is so ingrained at the Board of Regents, and especially in the leadership at the University of Iowa, that there is no chance anyone will start telling the truth to the students. They are and will always be cash cows, and if duping them obligates those in power to moments of incoherence, that’s a small price to pay. Having said that, a culture-seizing, campus-closing global pandemic is not your run-of-the-mill opportunity for squeezing a few extra bucks out of the student body, and insisting that online instruction is just as good as in-class instruction may not be a smart move when the bulk of your business model is predicated on the latter.
* From the Daily Iowan’s Rin Swann: UI science students adapt to online classes, loss of in-person labs:
Students like Wofford and their instructors are grappling with how to transfer labs, which often require experiential learning and student participation, to an online format because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Curriculum changes vary by instructor as they adapt to teaching remotely and shift their syllabi in the middle of the semester.
Kaia Johanningmeier, a second-year student majoring in geoscience and secondary-science education, said her physics lab was canceled entirely and her semester grade will be an average of her past lab scores.
So there we go. Proof positive that Iowa’s online classes are just as good as the on-campus classes they replaced — as personally promised and attested to by illegitimate Ui president J. Bruce Harreld, during last week’s presentation to the Iowa Board of Regents.