Students speak out over professor removal



Student Body Vice President Alisanne Struck, Speaker of the SenateSam Caughron and Student Body President Samantha Bennett listened to student concerns over President O’Kane’s class Oct. 5.

NIXSON BENITEZ, Executive Editor

On Oct. 5, students of Professor Steve O’Kane met together in the greenhouses to talk more about the trajectory of their Plant Systematics course. 

O’Kane was removed from the classroom by the university due to violating the Board of Regents policy banning mask mandates. O’Kane required his students to wear masks in his classroom as he has health issues. He threatened to lower their grades if students  did not comply. The university was notified about his mandate and removed him from the classroom. 

As a result of O’Kane’s removal, his students have  concerns about completing the class. More than a third of his students graduate in December 2021 and many students are required to take O’Kanes’ course for their major. O’Kane is the most qualified UNI staff member to teach Plant Systematics.

Biology major Aaron Boies helped facilitate the conversation with his classmates about the future of their course. Many students mentioned feeling mentally drained. This class is a four credit course, and labs are about 70% of the students grades. One student expressed concern as not completing  O’Kanes’ class may jeopardize their career.

Many of the students have also expressed the need for compensation  for the lack of education they are receiving in O’Kanes’ absence. With the university entering the seventh week, many of these students have been working on numerous labs and assignments. Although another professor could theoretically step in the shoes of O’Kane, the work would be too much for one professor to handle, especially nearing the halfway mark of the fall semester.

Student Body President Samantha Bennett and Vice President Alissane Struck were in attendance alongside NISG’s Director of Public Relations Timothy Perksen and Speaker of the Senate Sam Caughron who listened to the students’ concerns and what they would like administration to do. Students are demanding to know exactly who decided to remove O’Kane from the class. 

Many students mentioned that it is the university’s responsibility for students’ education. 

“They should have the students’ interest first, not political interests. So, if you’re not going to sit there and do your job, you need to go,” one student said. 

As a result of the decision to pull O’Kane out of the classroom, the quality of education students are receiving has been impacted. Many students are frustrated that they were not consulted by the administration. 

On Wednesday, Oct. 6, there will be a resolution introduced in the Northern Iowan Student Government (NISG) meeting to recognize  “The consequences currently decided upon by the University for Dr. O’Kane resulted in a punishment not only for him, but for his students, who have neither violated policies nor made any actions that necessitate punishment.”

The Board of Regents sent a statement to the Northern Iowan stating “Regarding Professor (O’Kane), personnel matters are handled at the university level, and the decision was made by UNI. The Board was not involved in that decision. The Board of Regents very much appreciates hearing from students at our public universities. The well-being of our students is always top of mind.”

University Relations sent a statement to the Northern Iowan as well, stating the following:

“After listening to the concerns and working closely with all parties involved, the University of Northern Iowa has reached an agreement with a faculty member to continue teaching his course.  Board and university policy has not changed and masks will not be mandated in the class. Biology Professor Steve O’Kane will instead teach his Plant Systematics course and lab online. Another high-qualified professor will handle other classroom duties.  UNI continues to support the rights of all our faculty, staff and students and is pleased to have reached a resolution that protects all of those involved. As noted in previous statements from the university, under Board of Regents directives, neither the university nor faculty members can mandate that face coverings be worn on campus, including in classrooms. An exception to this is in limited spaces where masks are required, such as a healthcare or campus childcare setting or service.”

The next classroom meeting will take place on Thursday Oct. 7 at 12:30 p.m. UNI faculty and students are invited. More updates will be provided in Thursday’s meeting in the greenhouse, room 26.