Spring semester preparations to address the COVID-19 pandemic
Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indiana University’s overriding priorities have been the health and safety of the members of the IU community, and maintaining the continuity of IU’s instruction, research, and clinical operations.
When you last met, I reported that we had recently completed the in-person part of the fall semester without in any way compromising these priorities. This impressive success was due to the dedicated efforts of thousands of members of the IU community across the state, including our students, the majority of whom embraced their responsibilities with seriousness in spite of all the challenges the pandemic presented.
You have also received numerous reports on IU’s comprehensive public health strategy, which includes one of the most robust and effective COVID-19 screening and testing programs in all of higher education. As I reported in December, by the end of the in-person part of the fall semester on November 20, our mitigation testing positivity rates hovered around 1 percent or less. And in the last few weeks of this new year, we have tested around 20,000 members of the IU community each week in Bloomington and Indianapolis, with a remarkably low positivity rate of around .5 percent.
Next week, the in-person portion of the spring semester will begin.
You heard yesterday about our strong spring enrollment figures, including record minority student numbers, which reflect how well IU has been able to address the major challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as our continued efforts to keep an IU education affordable, accessible and responsive to the needs of students from all backgrounds. In preparation for the in-person portion of the spring semester, extensive planning has been underway that we fully expect will allow us to carry over our success from the fall semester into the spring.
Our robust mitigation testing program continues unabated. Students who are living in residence halls or Greek houses are required to be tested before being allowed to move in. As this arrival testing concludes this weekend, we will move into spring semester mitigation testing, with the goal of testing all students in congregate living twice a week and all undergraduates at IU Bloomington once a week. We expect to be performing around 50,000 tests a week, with the goal of sampling all members of the IU community at levels significantly above those of the fall semester. We are able to do this by virtue of having established our own COVID-19 testing labs in Indianapolis and Bloomington. Students, faculty, and staff also have the option to schedule a free asymptomatic COVID-19 test on the Bloomington or IUPUI campuses, and we are strongly encouraging all students who are returning to campus to schedule such a test.
As was the case last semester, those who test positive will go into quarantine and contact tracing will be performed, all in the hope of avoiding the kind of spike we saw at the beginning of the fall semester.
And, of course, we will continue to follow the data and science and respond to any surges that might occur on any parts of our campuses.
With distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine underway, IU is continuing efforts to advance the state's vaccine rollout plan while stressing the importance of Hoosiers getting vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, which will help to dramatically reduce the spread of this deadly virus. When I became eligible last month, I received my first vaccination, along with Vice President Emeritus Charlie Nelms. I will receive my second dose tomorrow. Vice President Emeritus Nelms and I encourage—as strongly as possible—all members of the IU community—and all Hoosiers—to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. And we especially want to encourage all the Black, Brown, and other minority members of the IU community to get vaccinated as soon as possible being mindful of how disproportionally these communities have been affected by the pandemic.
IU has put plans in place for all IU campuses, apart from IUPUI, to open public sites or support local health department sites in administering free COVID-19 vaccines to eligible recipients. Hundreds of IU medical and nursing students are helping in these efforts and those of the state more generally with its large-scale vaccination deployment effort.
The science has been truly outstanding to get us to this point where we now have two highly safe and effective vaccines and others in the pipeline, some of which have already been deployed in other countries. We will be unremitting in our efforts to ensure the vaccine gets into the arms of members of the IU community, as well as all Hoosiers, and keep Indiana accelerating rapidly to a return to life as we once knew it.
Nevertheless, it remains essential that members of the IU community continue to follow our existing pandemic guidelines and recommended health and safety behaviors, which have been crucial to our success in continuing to operate as normally as possible during the pandemic.
Recommendation of an immediate increase in the IU minimum wage
I have spoken repeatedly of the superb contributions of the faculty and staff of Indiana University in hundreds of different areas and thousands of different ways, in keeping the entire IU community safe and continuing to function during the pandemic. These of course also reflect their efforts in normal times.
For many years, you and your predecessors, have repeatedly acknowledged these efforts and noted that one of IU’s most vital resources is its human resources—its 20,000 faculty and staff. One of your principal concerns, then, has been to ensure that all faculty and staff are paid fairly and that they have decent and reasonable benefits.
This is why, even in the recent era of low tuition increases and constrained state higher education appropriations, you have insisted on annual pay raises where budgets allow, that adequate benefits are made available to all no matter what their gender, race or sexual preferences, and that the lowest paid minimally receive a living wage.
Toward these ends, in 2017, you approved a plan on my recommendation to offer fully paid parental leave for all staff employees of the university. In 2018, you approved my recommendation to appoint John Whelan as IU’s 1st vice president for human resources, which further signaled IU's commitment to improve the conditions and workplace environment of all IU employees. And in 2019, you approved a plan to increase the university's contribution to the IU Retirement and Savings Plan for support and service staff to a flat 10 percent—the same contribution IU makes to retirement plans for faculty and professional staff.
When I became president of IU in 2007, IU’s hourly minimum wage was $8.85. This saw modest increases in subsequent years. But the concern remained that this was simply not a living wage. So, in response to these concerns, in 2017 you approved a plan I recommended to you to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by the 2021/22 financial year for all appointed staff on all campuses.
We planned to do this in 4 stages, beginning with an increase to $11.00 per hour in 2018/19, $12.33 in 2019/2020, $13.66 in $2020/21 and $15.00 in $2021/22. Unfortunately, because of serious financial uncertainties of the pandemic last year, we had to pause this plan at $12.33 per hour.
But it is now time to resume this plan.
Thus, I am recommending that you approve an increase of the IU minimum wage for appointed staff to $13.66 an hour, effective immediately, and to further increase IU’s minimum wage in five months’ time to $15 as of July 1, 2021.
We believe it is essential that IU provide fair, adequate, and competitive compensation for all of our employees, and this increase will underscore the value we place on our employees, who deserve to be rewarded for their dedicated and outstanding efforts. This increase will put IU’s minimum wage well above the regional average as well as state and federal minimum wages.
It will also help us to recruit and retain talented employees who continue to make greatly valued contributions to our educational, research and engagement missions—and it will ensure that IU stays competitive in this area with other leading public and private research universities in the U.S., a number of whom have announced similar moves.
Mr. Chairman, I recommend this to you, and at the risk of being highly presumptuous, could I suggest that if he wishes, Trustee Shoulders might like to move its adoption given his long championing of increasing the minimum wage.
IU faculty in the Biden administration
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I have reported often to you over the years about the many ways in which IU's people and programs contribute to good of our country. In the last few weeks, a number of IU faculty members have been appointed, nominated—or in one case, already sworn in—to serve in the new administration of President Biden.
Janet McCabe, a professor of practice in IU’s McKinney School of Law and director of IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute, has been nominated as deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The deputy administrator is the No. 2 position at the agency. Ms. McCabe is one of our nation's preeminent experts on environmental law and policy, and she has contributed enormously to the success of IU's Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge initiative.
And Dawn Johnsen, the Walter W. Foskett Professor in IU’s Maurer School of Law, has joined the U.S. Department of Justice under the new Biden administration. She was recently sworn in as a senior counselor in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. Professor Johnson served as a volunteer with the Department of Justice agency review team as part of the transition between administrations.
We congratulate both of them.
In addition to these faculty members, it bears mentioning that a number of recent speakers and panelists at various major conferences at IU’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies have been nominated or are already serving in the Biden administration.
Among them are:
- Jake Sullivan, the new National Security Advisor,
- Veteran diplomat William Burns, who has been nominated to serve as director of the CIA,
- Neera Tanden, nominated to head the Office of Management and Budget,
- Samantha Power, who served as our commencement speaker in 2019 and received an honorary IU doctorate, and has been nominated to lead USAID,
- Kelly Magsamen, appointed as chief of staff at the Department of Defense,
- Wendy Sherman and Brian McKeon, both nominated as Deputy Secretaries of State,
- Bonnie Jenkins, who has been nominated as Under Secretary for Arms Control
This list highlights how rapidly the Hamilton Lugar School has grown in seven short years to become a highly respected center in foreign affairs. And, of course, we should not forget that one of the keynote speakers at the groundbreaking for our magnificent Global and International Studies Building, was now President Joe Biden.
And with that, Mr. Chairman, I conclude my report.