Illinois State University's Board of Trustees was met with praise and frustration from faculty members on Friday regarding the administration's decisions for the fall semester amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
About a dozen faculty members addressed the board during the public comment session of Friday's quarterly meeting with the session lasting more than 30 minutes.
Mathematics professor Fusun Akman was one of the faculty members addressing the board, stating that the university's recent Redbirds Returns report lacks “meaningful safety measures” to protect students, faculty and staff. Akman also stated that the university is opening itself to "likely burden ISU with massive liabilities, tarnished reputation and low morale."
She went on to say that ISU President Larry Dietz has failed to respond to a 16-page open letter signed by more than 500 campus community members, stating that administrators have not been including them in the decision-making process for the fall semester.
Some faculty members supported Akman's points, reiterating the health risks of in-person instruction for both students and faculty. Others countered this, stating that the university has been conducting a plan that they believe is the best plan available for the semester.
Associate professor of infectious disease ecology Benjamin Sadd also attended the meeting, stating that he is "confident in the leadership of President (Larry) Dietz and trust he will modify any plan as needed."
Dietz said that he shared the same concerns as everyone else after the meeting and that fall enrollment appears to be in good shape despite the pandemic and recruitment challenges.
“As of July 17, registration for the fall semester was just 1% below registration this time last year. The number of full-time college students have also dipped a little bit, but only modestly," Dietz said.
Dietz stated that he is serving on a task force with Normal Mayor Chris Koos, landlords and other community members who are collaborating on plans for the fall. He said he has yet to respond to the letter put out by faculty members because he wasn't sure of the best setting to speak on the matter.
He also mentioned the fall return plan is still fluid and he is continuing to seek student, faculty and staff input.
"We hope Redbirds will be responsible Redbirds and weak masks, wash their hands and socially distance. We're not naive about it. It's going to be a challenge," Dietz said.
Dietz stated that the university is in constant contact with the McLean County Health Department and will work to monitor the rise in local cases, hospital bed usage, the positivity rate and other factors. However, he did not identify specific criteria that would cause the university to move to remote learning.
"Adjustments will continue to be made as situations dictate and we will continue to seek input from the leaders of our shared governance groups and university community," Dietz said. "We need to be flexible and support each other in our efforts to provide our students with the quality education they deserve."
The board also completed the following during the meeting:
- Approved a new online degree program to provide individuals who hold a license to teach in elementary, middle or secondary schools in the state with specialized training in low vision and blindness.
- Authorized issuing no more than $37.5 million in revenue bonds to reimburse university reserve funds being used for renovation work on the new Multicultural Center and the Watterson Towers residence halls.
- Authorized an intergovernmental fire services agreement with the Town of Normal for an amount not to exceed $604,956, an increase of about 2% over last year.
- The naming of the rooms in the Multicultural Center.
- Approved the extension of a contract with the Illinois State University Foundation for development and fund-raising services for FY2021, not exceeding more than $2,760,000, and for the university to purchase property insurance for FY 2021 for an annual premium not to exceed $1.2 million.
- Re-elected Julie Annette Jones as chair and Mary Ann Louderback as board secretary.