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Education
Iowa’s public campuses freeze spring rates
  • Updated

IOWA CITY — After couching this fall’s coronavirus-compelled tuition freeze with the caveat that rates could go up in the spring, Iowa’s Board of Regents announced Wednesday costs will stay put for the rest of the academic year — but not for next fall.

“Because of COVID-19, pausing the five-year tuition model for one academic year was the right thing to do,” board President Michael Richards said during a regents meeting. “But in balancing the financial needs of our future institutions, we are planning to resume the five-year tuition plan beginning with the fall 2021 semester.”

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld commended the decision to resume rate hikes at his institution and at Iowa State University, as both campuses Wednesday reported financial challenges from the pandemic and looming demographic headwinds.

“I strongly believe it’s the right thing to do,” Harreld said. “I’m very appreciative, President Richards, that you’re making the statement that after this freeze, we’re coming back into that model. I think it’s not only right for the universities, but it’s also right for families because it gives them a sense of predictability.”

The board’s decision leaves the 2020-21 academic year baseline tuition rate for resident undergraduates at $8,073 at the UI, $8,042 at ISU and $7,665 at the University of Northern Iowa.

Before COVID-19 hobbled campus operations — forcing courses online last spring and reshaping nearly every aspect of the collegiate experience this fall — the board in 2018 had unveiled a five-year tuition model aimed at giving students and families line of sight to their future expenses.

According to the model, meant to offset declines in state funding, the UI and ISU would raise residential undergraduate tuition at least 3% a year — if lawmakers fulfill the board’s appropriations request — or more, depending on how much state support is below the board’s ask.

Under the model, rates could go higher for graduate and nonresidential students. And the UNI was excluded, as the smaller campus has a different set of institutions it compares itself to and competes with.

But Iowa’s public universities have suffered from shrinking legislative financial support.

“We wonder why we’re having increases and the need for an increase in tuition, or why we’re not being able to have an increase in salaries, or actually support excellent programs,” Harreld said. “This is a big concern.”

Acknowledging students and families are facing financial hardships as well, UI and ISU administrators Wednesday shared some of the financial impacts COVID-19 has had on their campuses.

ISU President Wendy Wintersteen said the total pandemic hit there has topped $150 million — including a $41 million general fund budget reduction this year, more than $70 million in lost revenue, $20 million in added costs and about $21 million in refunds.

“We’re facing some very, extremely challenging financial times here, right now,” she said.

Harreld, citing realities facing higher education across the Midwest and East Coast signaling shrinking pools of prospective students, highlighted his campus’ recent endeavor to partner with a private collaborative for operation of its utilities system, and suggested more of that could come.

“You should also know that I’ve asked and authorized a group to start looking for what’s the next public-private partnership across the University of Iowa,” Harreld told the regents. “We need several more of these to get better ahead of the fiscal headwinds.”


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Native American Duane Slick's artwork to be featured at first native-owned gallery

Artist Duane Slick often works in monochromatic shadow and light. His use of color is purposeful, but can be fleeting, like the elusive coyote “trickster,” an archetypal figure in tribal folklore that is often found — sometimes hiding in plain sight — in his paintings.

COURTESY PHOTO  

Waterloo native Duane Slick has been selected to exhibit his work in the inaugural exhibition of K Art, the nation’s first and only Native-owned commercial art gallery opening in Buffalo, N.Y., on Dec. 11

“I decided a long time ago that I’m not a colorist. I’m more interested in drawing and paintings that have strong graphic sensibility. I’m more interested in building a kind of architecture within a painting,” said Slick, a Native American painter.

A Waterloo native and graduate of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Slick is a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. He has been selected to exhibit his work in the inaugural exhibition of K Art, the nation’s first and only Native-owned commercial art gallery opening in Buffalo, N.Y., on Dec. 11. The gallery’s primary focus is elevating contemporary Native artists who have typically been under-represented, marginalized and stereotyped.

COURTESY PHOTO  

'There Are No Endings,' Duane Slick 

Slick is a member of the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa through his father, and through his mother, the Ho-Chunk Nation in Nebraska. He is a self-professed story teller, using canvas, a brush and paint to relate stories of heritage, history, life and tragedy through layers of paint. He seeks to explore and engage “certain issues of Native identity through references that aren’t Meskwaki or Ho-Chunk and not specific to a tribe, but more at the level of cultural engagement,” Slick explained.

His work is represented in galleries, collections and exhibitions throughout the United States. Just prior to outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian purchased some of Slick’s work and mounted an exhibition surveying 25 years of contemporary native art in painting.

COURTESY PHOTO  

'The Light Apart,' Duane Slick 

“I was in the pantheon. I saw the exhibition and I realized, ‘There you are, with all your heroes,’” Slick said, marveling at the experience. “It’s interesting because I have run into some younger native artists and done some shows with younger artists who are very aware of my work, of what I am doing.”

Slick has been on the faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design for 25 years. He also has taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and is a frequent lecturer on native art.

He received a bachelor of fine arts in painting and a bachelor of arts in art education from UNI, and his master of fine arts in painting from the University of California, Davis. His awards and honors are numerous, including the Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art. In 2010, the UNI Gallery of Art mounted an exhibition of Slick’s work, “The Untraceable Present: A Fourteen Year Survey of Paintings by Duane Slick.”

K Art is owned and founded by Dave Kimelberg, a Seneca Nation of Indians member, attorney and entrepreneur. “Historically, museums are the primary platform for native artists, but the number of shows dedicated to contemporary Native American art is very small and the number of artists featured in these shows is even smaller. We intend to focus on promoting these artists whose stories have not previously been told in the way they deserve to be,” Kimelberg said.

Slick said the gallery represents a different type of initiative. “In the past, shows were organized by groups of individuals and funded through indigenous sources. It was a grassroots kind of thing. Being native-owned is what distinguishes it from other efforts.”

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Slick still keeps in touch and visits family in Iowa, although visits been curtailed by the pandemic. He also is working with the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls for a show in October 2021.

Autumn's arrival -- Fall photos by BRANDON POLLOCK

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Lawsuit: Tyson managers bet money on how many workers would contract COVID-19
  • Updated

WATERLOO — A wrongful death lawsuit tied to COVID-19 infections in a Waterloo pork processing plant alleges that during the initial stages of the pandemic, Tyson Foods ordered employees to report for work while supervisors privately wagered money on the number of workers who would be sickened by the deadly virus.

Earlier this year, the family of the late Isidro Fernandez sued the meatpacking company, alleging Fernandez was exposed to the coronavirus at the Waterloo plant where he worked. The lawsuit alleges Tyson Foods is guilty of a “willful and wanton disregard for workplace safety.”

Fernandez, who died April 20, was one of at least five Waterloo plant employees who died of the virus. According to the Black Hawk County Health Department, more than 1,000 workers at the plant — over a third of the facility’s workforce — contracted the virus.

The lawsuit, reported by the Iowa Capital Dispatch, alleges that despite the uncontrolled spread of the virus at the plant, Tyson required its employees to work long hours in cramped conditions without providing the appropriate personal protective equipment and without ensuring workplace-safety measures were followed.

The lawsuit was recently amended and includes a number of new allegations against the company and plant officials. Among them:

  • In mid-April, around the time Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson visited the plant and reported the working conditions there “shook [him] to the core,” plant manager Tom Hart organized a cash-buy-in, winner-take-all, betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many plant employees would test positive for COVID-19.
  • John Casey, an upper-level manager at the plant, is alleged to have explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of COVID-19, telling them to show up to work even if they were exhibiting symptoms of the virus. Casey reportedly referred to COVID-19 as the “glorified flu” and told workers not to worry about it because “it’s not a big deal” and “everyone is going to get it.” On one occasion, Casey intercepted a sick supervisor who was on his way to be tested and ordered him to get back to work, saying, “We all have symptoms — you have a job to do.” After one employee vomited on the production line, managers reportedly allowed the man to continue working and then return to work the next day.
  • In late March or early April, as the pandemic spread across Iowa, managers at the Waterloo plant reportedly began avoiding the plant floor for fear of contracting the virus. As a result, they increasingly delegated managerial authority and responsibilities to low-level supervisors who had no management training or experience. The supervisors did not require truck drivers and subcontractors to have their temperatures checked before entering the plant.
  • In March and April, plant supervisors falsely denied the existence of any confirmed cases or positive tests for COVID-19 within the plant, and allegedly told workers they had a responsibility to keep working to ensure Americans didn’t go hungry as the result of a shutdown.
  • Tyson paid out $500 “thank you bonuses” to employees who turned up for every scheduled shift for three months — a policy decision that allegedly incentivized sick workers to continue reporting for work.
  • Tyson executives allegedly lobbied Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for COVID-19 liability protections that would shield the company from lawsuits, and successfully lobbied the governor to declare that only the state government, not local governments, had the authority to close businesses in response to the pandemic.

Tyson has yet to file a response to the new allegations, and did not immediately respond to a call from the Iowa Capital Dispatch. In previous court filings, Tyson said it “vigorously disputes” the plaintiffs’ claims in this case, adding that it has “worked from the very beginning of the pandemic to follow federal workplace guidelines and has invested millions of dollars to provide employees with safety and risk-mitigation equipment.”

The lawsuit claims that while Tyson has repeatedly claimed its operations needed to remain open to feed America, the company increased its exports to China by 600% during the first quarter of 2020.

Jeff Reinitz / JEFF REINITZ, COURIER STAFF WRITER  

Tyson Fresh Meats on North Elk Run Road in Waterloo.

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages for fraudulent misrepresentation and gross negligence.

The case was initially filed in state court, claiming violations of Iowa law. At Tyson’s request, the case was moved to federal court, with the company claiming it had remained open during the pandemic “at the direction of a federal officer” — President Donald Trump, who, on April 28, invoked his authority under the Defense Production Act and ordered meat and poultry processing companies to continue operating.

The nonprofit organization Public Citizen has filed an amicus brief in the case, supporting the Fernandez family’s efforts to remand the action back to state court. In its brief, Public Citizen has said that neither the Defense Production Act nor the executive order signed by President Trump had “directed” Tyson to do anything.

The Waterloo facility is Tyson’s largest pork plant in the United States. The facility employs approximately 2,800 workers who process approximately 19,500 hogs per day.

Gary Mickelson, senior director of public relations for Tyson Foods, emailed the Courier following statement late Wednesday night:

"We’re saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and sympathize with their families. Our top priority is the health and safety of our workers and we’ve implemented a host of protective measures at Waterloo and our other facilities that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing Covid-19. While we’ll pass on specifically addressing the amended lawsuit, we can tell you the following:

-- Our company formed a coronavirus task force in January and began educating our team members – in multiple languages – about the virus. Our efforts included relaxing our attendance policy and telling team members to stay home if they didn’t feel well. 

-- We were one of the first companies to start taking team member temperatures and we began efforts to secure a supply of face masks before the CDC recommended using them.

-- We’ve transformed our facilities with protective measures including symptom screenings, face masks, workstation dividers and social distance monitors.

-- For weeks, the Black Hawk County Health Department (BHCHD) declined to share information with our company about Tyson team members with COVID-19. The first time BHCHD officials finally provided us with a list of names was the day after they and other local officials asked us to suspend plant operations. Once we started receiving the case information, we made the decision to idle production and work with state and local health officials to conduct facility-wide testing.

-- As noted in a May 5 news release, the reopening followed a tour of the plant by Black Hawk County Health officials, Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart, Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson, UFCW Local 431 President Bob Waters and other local business leaders and a subsequent joint company and community leader review of the company’s protocol to safely resume operations. Local leaders made the following comments:

  • 'I had the chance to tour the Tyson plant in Waterloo and see the additional steps taken to keep the workers safe during these trying and unknown times,' said Bob Waters, president, UFCW Local 431. 'Tyson has gone above and beyond to keep their employees safe and I support the reopening of the facility. This pork plant and all of the measures they’ve put in place are an example of how to effectively set up a safe work environment for the employees.'
  • 'It is my sincere hope that the Tyson Waterloo operations can once again find its footing and become a better, even more productive part of our Black Hawk County business community,' said Sheriff Tony Thompson. 'The amount of obvious energy put into addressing this plant’s workspace and personal protective deficiencies became clear during our recent visit and I look forward to continuing to monitor and work with local plant leadership to ensure a cooperative effort moving forward.'
  • 'People are our number one asset and first priority,” said Mayor Hart. 'I am pleased that Tyson is working on protecting its employees and partnering with the community leaders for the good of all.'

-- We partnered with Matrix Medical Network, a leading medical clinical services company, to establish an onsite clinic at our Waterloo plant to provide team members with enhanced care.

-- We’re using testing as a tool. We launched a new, industry-leading COVID monitoring program that includes proactively testing workers who have no symptoms as well as those who do or have come in close contact with someone with the virus. We’re also expanding our occupational health staff, including a new chief medical officer position."

Iowa Capital Dispatch is a nonprofit, independent source for quality journalism.

COVID-19 disrupting the meat supply chain
Mapping COVID-19's impact on the Midwest meat industry

State-and-regional
AP
Some GOP governors shift on mask mandates as hospitals fill
  • Updated

IOWA CITY — After Republicans expanded their control of Iowa’s Legislature this month, Gov. Kim Reynolds said the outcome was a validation of her small-government approach to managing the coronavirus pandemic.

But as Iowa hospitals rapidly filled up in the days after the election, the GOP governor reluctantly embraced a policy she had once considered government overreach and vowed never to enact: a statewide mask mandate, however limited.

“If our health care system exceeds capacity, it’s not just COVID-19 we’ll be fighting. Every Iowan who needs medical care will be put at risk,” Reynolds said in a prime-time address Monday, warning that ambulances, first responders and routine preventive care would soon be unavailable without action. “If Iowans don’t buy into this, we lose.”

Reynolds is joining Republican governors in Utah and North Dakota in changing course on the pandemic response since the Nov. 3 election and issuing mask mandates and other restrictions as coronavirus cases skyrocket across the country. GOP governors in Ohio and West Virginia have also recently strengthened existing mask mandates, while Mississippi’s governor expanded the state’s partial mandate to cover more counties.

By belatedly mandating masks, the governors are tacitly acknowledging the failure of their earlier hands-off approach to public health. Health officials have long called for widespread mask wearing to prevent the spread of the disease. Governors who resisted for ideological or political reasons now find themselves in the throes of a crisis and forced to follow science or risk making a dangerous situation worse through their inaction.

The changes are backed by growing evidence that cloth masks protect not only those around an infected person but also those wearing them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says masks help prevent asymptomatic people from spreading virus-laden droplets when they cough, sneeze and talk and help wearers to avoid inhaling them.

The governors, their advisers and other observers say they are simply responding to the rapidly worsening public health crises in their states.

“Our situation has changed, and we must change with it,” a somber North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said after he signed a surprise executive order late Friday requiring people throughout the state to wear face coverings inside businesses and other indoor public settings.

Burgum had previously urged people to wear masks while promoting a “light touch” by government. But by last weekend, there were few intensive care unit beds available in the state, and the governor said doctors and nurses urgently need help.

In Iowa, Reynolds had for months resisted growing pressure to enact a mask mandate, rebuffing recommendations from White House experts and medical groups. She said that it would be a “feel-good measure” that would be unenforceable and that she trusted Iowans to wear masks and take other precautions voluntarily.

Reynolds announced no new restrictions during October as cases increased in Iowa faster than nearly every other state. She spent part of the month campaigning for President Donald Trump and other Republicans at events where hundreds or thousands of maskless supporters gathered in defiance of public health guidance.

In the two weeks after the election, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Iowa doubled to more than 1,500 by Monday. Hospitals began filling up, canceling elective procedures in order to free up beds and transferring patients. Health care workers were exhausted, and many were in quarantine or isolation after exposure or infection.

The governor feared that the state’s health care system would soon be overrun and that the crisis would get worse if maskless relatives got together for large indoor Thanksgiving celebrations across the state.

“I think we’ve hit a point where positive cases are just too much. She had to do something,” said David Kochel, a Republican political consultant who advises Reynolds.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who is leaving office in January, said the timing of his post-election move wasn’t political. Instead, he said it was an essential step to avoid disaster with a surge already threatening to overwhelm hospitals ahead of the holiday season.

Still, 13 other states with GOP governors still have no statewide mask mandates, and many of them have affirmed their opposition in recent days even as cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise in their states.

“I don’t think mask mandates are appropriate,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said at a news conference Tuesday. “I think they breed resistance.”

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Wednesday asked people to respect those who don’t wear masks and stood by her decision not to issue a mandate.

“We talk often about the government’s role in a situation like this in dealing with a pandemic,” Noem said. “At this point, frankly, I’m getting more concerned about how neighbors are treating neighbors.”

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday praised “conservative Republican governors who have stepped up and issued mandates for wearing masks,” singling out Utah and North Dakota. He said the moves were patriotic and could save lives.

Critics of Reynolds called her mandate too little, too late, noting that it exempts schools and churches and applies only to indoor interactions longer than 15 minutes. Iowa reported 40 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, a record for the state.

“She has taken a half step in the right direction,” said Democratic state Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City. “But we’re still at code red here in Iowa and will be even with the governor’s newfound interest in masks.”

Reynolds may have undermined her new policy at a news conference Tuesday when she acknowledged doubts about whether masks work, claiming that there’s “ science on both sides “ on their efficacy and that cases have risen in states with mandates.

Some of the governors’ fellow conservatives, meanwhile, called her mandate an overreach.

“Mask mandates will likely have the opposite effect of what was intended,” Rep. Steven Holt, chair of the Iowa House Judiciary committee, wrote on his Facebook page.

___

Associated Press writers Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Neb.; Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, S.D.; James MacPherson in Bismarck, N.D.; and Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.