Can You Talk about the Mask Policy in the Classroom?
The University of Iowa has declared itself to be a largely mask-free campus for the Fall of 2021. The state legislature banned mask mandates by cities, counties and public schools. State universities were not covered by the legislation. Nonetheless, the board of regents for the state university system adopted a policy that masks can be required only in very limited circumstances on state university campuses. In the face of faculty protests, the University of Iowa provost has followed that up with more detail about the policy and how it is to be implemented. Included in that detail is some very interesting language about what faculty are allowed to say about the mask mandate.
Although the regents said that masks are “strongly encouraged” but not “required,” the guideline from the provost indicates that professors may not “ask” or “require” their students to wear masks. They may not ask students about their vaccination status so that “everyone feels respected.” They may not ask other employees of the University of Iowa about their vaccination status. All that’s rather dubious, but even more intriguing is the directive regarding speech in the classroom.
Q: May I make statements in the classroom regarding mask usage or vaccinations?
A: You may only make statements regarding mask usage or vaccinations in the context of course material discussions of health-related issues. Outside that context, if you are asked, you may share your personal choice regarding the decision to wear a mask or be vaccinated without making a statement regarding the value of the choice or any value judgments about decisions not to be vaccinated. Remember that there is a power differential between you and your students, and they may perceive you asking them to wear a mask or if they have been vaccinated as a requirement that they do so.
Some have suggested that this directive runs afoul of the board of regents policy on free speech. I doubt it, but it certainly runs afoul of the spirit of that policy. The specifics of the policy relate to student speech and speech by campus speakers and does not focus on speech by members of the faculty or classroom speech. But notably it does include some “guiding principles.”
- The primary function of the Regent universities is the discovery, improvement, transmission, and dissemination of knowledge by means of research, teaching, discussion, and debate. To fulfill this function, the universities must strive to ens
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