When I announced yesterday whether individual professors should be allowed to use masks compulsorily when the entire university can choose to wear masks, I think there will be different opinions. I worry that some people might express it in an unhelpful way.
I am happy to report that I was right on the first point and (mostly) wrong on the second point. Wise and secular readers wrote thoughtful responses that reflected a range of perspectives. This is all I can hope for, and I salute my readers.
In terms of context, I should point out that we have a strong lineup of online and “remote live” courses, so students who are worried about being in the classroom with other people can choose to take classes at home. This is not universal—for example, it does not apply to car repair—but students have options in most cases.
A long-time reader suggested,
“As for the masks in the classroom, in my opinion, the elements that you would ignore if you think aloud include people with low ventilation and immune function-or the parents of children who have not been vaccinated. If masks are advertised in the syllabus or released in advance Request, then in my opinion, the main problem is that it is the only available part of the compulsory course and some people are firmly opposed to it for political/liberal reasons.
I have been told that our ventilation is surprisingly good, which is very helpful. Nevertheless, if the person sitting next to me coughs, I am not sure whether it is important that the vent on the ceiling is connected to a good filter. Single lessons can be a challenge, although I don’t know how to avoid them altogether.
Another reader offered an analogy to K-12:
“I think maybe a more appropriate analogy is the nuts in the elementary school classroom. Although some schools completely ban peanuts, some schools do this in one classroom and one classroom. If Mrs. XX has a child in the third grade class who is severely allergic to nuts, There are no nuts in that classroom (not the other third grades). And it is usually not disclosed which child is allergic to nuts (although children often know it).
The classroom is a (in a sense) community, so members have certain responsibilities for each other. An anonymous survey can be conducted before the first day of class to ask if anyone (students and teachers) has special reasons (such as low immune function, pre-existing diseases, etc.), which will cause them to have people who do not wear masks in the classroom. Then depending on the result, you may leave one part of Econ 1 unmasked, while the other part is masked, etc…”
I like this spirit, but I suspect that the situation is different from what the metaphor implies. In the third grade, students usually stay in the same class most of the day. In college, students mix and match courses within a week. If everyone tells the truth and abides by the honor system, it can work, but a little resistance can become very ugly, very fast.
Another concern is the fact that the college is part of a larger political system:
“In your particular case, as a national institution, you can rely on national guidelines. The state says that masks are optional. This is the response your institution will (*must*) respond. If you want, faculty, staff and Students can wear masks, but you (and your institution) cannot ignore what the state says. In addition, if the health of faculty members (or students) may indicate that wearing masks is necessary-I think it may be very rare-then There are other possible course delivery options.”
This is how it works. Whether it should work in this way is a separate question.
Another reader, the president of a university in another state, distinguished the difference between vaccine authorization and mask authorization:
“My university does not mandate vaccination, but we mandate that any student attending classes in the building wear masks. All employees will wear masks in the building unless they are alone in a private office. Our courses will be in the private office. Virtual courses are mainly held in the fall. Our faculty and staff have always insisted that they are not law enforcement officers wearing masks, so we are unlikely to know who is not wearing a mask in the classroom.”
This makes me very worried. If you are mandatory to wear masks in class, but the faculty and staff insist that they are not law enforcement officers, who are? Here, if everyone does the right thing, it will work. But as James Madison pointed out, if people are angels, there is no need for a government. But they are not, so they are.
A former colleague suggested:
“We are now at the point of this’new normal’. How people deal with their choices is about personal responsibility. When I feel the need, I still wear a mask. Faculty and staff can do the same for themselves.”
I like this because it correctly implies that the vaccinated person can also choose to wear a mask. “Mask optional” means that masks are allowed, they are very. People who are both vaccinated and wearing masks have a very high level of protection, and both employees and students have the right to do so.
Finally, a relatively rude response is correct:
“On the one hand, there is fuss, and on the other, people die or have long-term disabilities. You seem to choose not to make a fuss about people’s health.”
If it’s that simple, it’s that simple.
This is a complex question, and the best answer may vary depending on the situation. But I want to thank my clever and worldly readers who answered this question thoughtfully and honestly. This is the spirit in which I would like to see public policy issues resolved more frequently.