ISU professor tells students they are required to wear masks, bucking guidance from administration, regents

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An Iowa State professor told her students they are required to wear masks despite guidance that explicitly states professors cannot require masks of the students.

Professor Jiawei Li’s syllabus for the class made it clear face masks were highly encouraged, but she told one of her classes she would be requiring face masks. One of the students in the class is a member of College Republicans United and told The Iowa Standard there were only three people out of about 40 wearing masks — the professor and two students.

Afterward, the student asked Li for clarification.

STUDENT: “I’ll keep my distance from ya, sorry. I was a little confused. You said that the mask, you had to wear them, but then on the syllabus it said optional, so which one should I do?

LI: Yeah, I changed my plan, sorry about that. So, yeah, I think, um, you are required to wear a mask because you are sitting too closely to each other. It’s too risky. Do you think so?

STUDENT: I understand. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

LI: So I highly recommend that you wear a mask during this class.

Iowa State Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert sent a document to faculty on Aug. 10 to provide additional guidance on wearing masks in classrooms and other instructional settings.

“While not required, Iowa State University encourages the use of face masks in indoor settings including all classrooms and learning spaces to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” it states.

Instructors were “encouraged” to use the following statements verbatim in their syllabi and reiterate it verbally on the first day of class:

Face masks encouraged: Because of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, all students are encouraged—but not required—to wear face masks, consistent with current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Further information on the proper use of face masks is available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/effective-masks.html.

Vaccinations encouraged:  All students are encouraged to receive a vaccination against COVID-19.  Multiple locations are available on campus for free, convenient vaccination.  Further information is available at: https://web.iastate.edu/safety/updates/covid19/vaccinations.

Vaccinations may also be obtained from health care providers and pharmacies.

Physical distancing encouraged for unvaccinated individuals:  Classrooms and other campus spaces are operating at normal capacities, and physical distancing by faculty, staff, students, and visitors to campus is not required. However, unvaccinated individuals are encouraged to continue to physically distance themselves from others when possible.

Instructors are given the following allowance when it comes to encouraging students to wear face masks:

  • Encourage students individually and in group settings to wear a face mask while also noting it is a personal choice, and not a requirement
  • Explain that the university’s guidance is consistent with current CDC recommendations that face masks be worn in group settings indoors
  • Explain these points both verbally on the first day of class, and in writing in the course syllabus
  • Post approved face mask signage

According to the document, instructors “may not require students to wear face masks.”

They may also not penalize or criticize students for not wearing face masks, provide tangible incentives for students who wear face masks, direct students to sit in different areas based on whether they wear face masks or engage in actions that could reasonably be interpreted as requiring disclosure of vaccination status.

The document notes, once again, face masks cannot be a requirement for labs, studios or office hours.

Author: Jacob Hall