Regents to study university collaboration, efficiencies as campuses reopen

The Old Capitol is a landmark at the University of Iowa and part of the official university logo. (Photo courtesy of the University of Iowa)

The Iowa Board of Regents is launching a new effort to explore collaboration and administrative consolidation among state universities, as well as other measures triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regents President Michael Richards said Thursday the board has established an “ad hoc” committee made up of four Regents and representatives of the universities. The panel is charged with looking for “academic and administrative collaboration opportunities across the Regent enterprise.”

The added pressure of the pandemic drives the need for “systemic changes,” he said.

Among the topics the advisory group may consider, according to Richards:

  • Making “strategic investments to expand the opportunities for students at one university to take classes online from one of the other universities;
  • Creating new online programs for non-traditional students;
  • Expand the post-secondary enrollment option for high-school students;
  • Consolidating other administrative functions at all three universities;
  • Exploring a moratorium on new construction
  • Exploring additional public-private partnerships

The advisory group has already had initial meetings and will make recommendations to the Board of Regents at its November meeting, Richards said.

The board has studied university collaboration and consolidation many times over the years and the process is often controversial.  More than two years ago, a top Republican lawmaker, Sen. Jack Whitver of Ankeny, suggested a new commission to look for efficiencies in higher education.

The Regents voted later in the meeting to freeze tuition and mandatory fees at the state universities for fall 2020.

Meanwhile, the universities are moving forward with plans to reopen campuses this fall, including in-person instruction, residence halls and dining facilities, extracurricular activities and sports, Richards said.

Richards offered no details about what measures would be in place to ensure the safety of students and faculty and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Planning committees at each institution are handling the details, he said. The committees are using guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Iowa Department of Public Health and others.

“We do believe we can open our campuses in a safe manner so that is how we are proceeding,” Richards said in remarks during a regular Regents board meeting. “There are many details to be worked out, both inside and outside of the classroom,” he said. “How our campuses will operate in the post COVID-19 environment will be specifically dealt with by the committees of the universities.”

He said each university will publicly communicate its own plans as they are available.

“We recognize there are many questions, but I want to let everyone know that these plans are proceeding as quickly as possible.”