At the University of Iowa, students, staff and faculty members protested the university’s campus reopening plans last Wednesday because they disagreed with in-person classes. The protest involved staff and faculty striking and not conducting work or instruction, which the university administration strongly advised its employees not to participate in.
The protesters blasted the university’s administration for failing to lead during the coronavirus pandemic and that the university should pivot to online, virtual instruction rather than in-person classes. They also highlighted concerns about the university’s self-reported positive tests, which there were at least 1,142 positive tests for the virus since the fall 2020 semester began in mid-August.
Several administrators acknowledged the sickout protest, but discouraged participation because employees have an “obligation to deliver instruction as assigned, and to provide appropriate notice of absences due to illness.” After all, a protest interrupts instruction and is a disservice to tuition-paying students.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has not issued a stay-at-home order, unlike liberal states such as California and New York, and nor did she issue a mask-wearing mandate for Iowans. But the University of Iowa requires all campus-going individuals to wear masks and has other precautions in place, yet the sickout protest went forward as planned.
It is not as if the University of Iowa only had in-person classes when it began the fall 2020 semester. The university re-opened with online-only, hybrid (in-person and online), and in-person classes.
Interestingly enough, the graduate student union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, did not organize the protest.