Students rally behind a UNI professor who was forced to leave campus after asking students to mask up during his class.
Throughout the entire pandemic, the public has been asked to wear masks while inside or with groups of people. As the COVID-19 positive test rate is decreasing steadily, many believe that masks are a thing of the past. While the University of Northern Iowa is not requiring masks to be worn by students or staff, all are encouraged to protect themselves however they feel necessary, but when one professor tried to protect himself and his students, he was put on leave.
Biology professor Steve O’Kane asked his students to mask up, resulting in being asked to leave campus by the dean and department chair. Since the incident, O’Kane is back to teaching but only on Zoom. Students that take classes with O’Kane have been speaking up on his behalf, saying his punishment is unfair and offering their support by showing up to an empty classroom each week. O’Kane, as punishment, must give lecture and instruction to his class every Tuesday via Zoom, while another professor sits in with his students on Thursdays while they work on labs.
With the pandemic still trying everyone’s patience, students across campus wonder how they can help. The university in whole cannot place a mask mandate on students, but many believe that each classroom or professor should be allowed to place their own rules in their classroom. Many different professors have many different rules in their own classroom; whether this means students can only take notes on paper or that attendance is required, professors have never been pushed to place (or not place) certain rules within their own room.
Throughout campus, each person has a different story. Some may be immunocompromised; others may be taking care of an eldery parent at home. No matter what each person’s circumstances are, everyone wants to be safe during these scary times. Asking others to wear a mask should not result in punishment so severe that someone, student or professor, is asked to leave campus.
If professors are allowed to implement their own rules, wearing a mask should be something professors can ask of students. I believe that the safety of everyone on campus should be what is most important to those who oversee things. The University of Northern Iowa is strongly encouraging students to get vaccinated; almost weekly in the “UNI Together” emails students are informed of new COVID-19 statistics, and the vaccine is pushed once more. Instead of pushing students and staff to do something new that many aren’t fully in favor of, the university should be pushing masks on students and faculty that choose not to get vaccinated. Throughout the year, I have learned of many different trials and tribulations that my professors have been put through.
In March of 2020, faculty was asked to place all materials online for the following semester. Many struggled with this… How would professors teach or grade labs, how would students be able to ask questions or make relationships. In August 2021, faculty was asked to come back to campus, putting themselves at risk each and every day to teach students. The only people on campus that can be seen consistently wearing masks would be staff members. Staff should not be the only ones trying to keep the entire university safe.
Some students may see wearing masks as a waste of time; others see it as a form of protection from a virus that could hurt them or their family. For the safety of all students, staff and family members at home, masks should be pushed a little harder than they are now. For those who advocate for mask wearing, the university should have no right to silence your voice or the voice of anyone else who chooses to keep others safe.
Disclaimer: The following opinion articles featured do not reflect the opinion of the Northern Iowan newspaper or staff as a whole.