Before I get into this, let me clarify: this is a well-thought-out work. So far, I am sharing my own thinking process on this issue. This is not a policy. As always, I am not speaking for my university; this is just trying to think about how the policy works. I welcome thoughtful feedback.
According to national guidelines, wearing masks on campus is currently optional. It is highly recommended for people who have not been vaccinated, although you cannot judge by just looking at someone. My state seems to have established an honor system, at least for now, and we are doing it.
A question arises whether individual teachers can choose to require masks in their own face-to-face courses.
This is a tricky question. So this is an attempt I figured out. Once again, constructive and thoughtful feedback is welcome.
There is no general dress code on campus, except for the usual laws regarding indecent exposure. But there are some specific room or class rules that are more standardized. For example, a chemical laboratory may need safety goggles. In the cooking teaching kitchen, a hair net is necessary. Neither makes me feel that the students’ freedom of speech is improperly hindered. Goggles are to protect students, and nets are to protect customers who eat food. In items with clinical requirements, such as nursing, the clinical location usually has a dress code; it depends on them. Sports teams have uniforms, but this is what their league requires.
Of these examples, goggles and hairnets seem to be the most relevant. Like masks, they are all related to safety. Masks can protect the wearer and the people around the wearer.
But I see some key differences, which make this comparison unconvincing, at least for me.
First, in each of the above cases, the requirements have nothing to do with the teacher. This requirement is dependent on the class and/or facility rather than the professor. This means that the rules are consistent for any two parts of the same class. These rules are clearly related to what is done in class. In other words, I can explain why safety goggles are needed in chemical laboratories, but not in business presentations.
The second is the politicization of wearing masks. I haven’t seen or heard of students rushing out of the chemistry lab, outraged because they have to wear goggles. Hairnet requirements in the kitchen may cause occasional complaints, but anyone who has to pick hair from food in a restaurant will quickly understand this rule. Even if students don’t understand, the employer who hired them definitely understands.
In contrast, masks and vaccines have become hot political issues. This makes law enforcement more complicated.
From a management point of view-I’m sorry, but this is my beat-policies that cannot be implemented have a higher burden of proof. If a student comes to campus without wearing a mask and is told that wearing a mask on campus is optional, but appears in class but is told that the professor needs to wear a mask and others do not need it, I can see that the student got them support. Considering the multi-layered meanings that culture gives to the mask, I can imagine some students decide to oppose it. At this point, the professor has a choice: to withdraw or let the students leave. If the student refuses, will we really call the campus police for this? In the age of mobile video and social media, similar incidents may cause immeasurable harm. This may not be a good use for the police.
If we are not prepared to implement customized policies, we probably shouldn’t have them.
I think it is sad that masks and vaccines are politicized, but it does not depend on me. This is where we are as a culture. We are lucky to have a free vaccination spot on campus, so anyone who wants a vaccine and has medical capabilities can get one. At this point, at least here, we have no supply issues. To a certain extent, the problem is on the demand side.
A professor who cares about his class can definitely wear a mask in class; we even have a clip-on microphone fixed on the mask to avoid sound muffling. Of course, students who want to wear a mask can choose. However, it is harsh and unwise to create confrontation in dozens of classes at a time according to the requirements of different parts. This is not a good use of law enforcement, nor is it a good place for a university.
Nevertheless, I am still not completely satisfied with this answer. Does the wise and secular reader have a convincing rebuttal to the law enforcement argument?