University penalizes professor who tried establishing his own classroom mask mandate

A biology professor at the University of Northern Iowa mandated masks in his classroom in violation of the Iowa Board of Regents’ suspension of mask mandates.

The university removed the professor from his in-class teaching responsibilities, but required him to undergo training and continue his virtual instruction.

A professor at the University of Northern Iowa mandated masks in his classroom in opposition to university regulations. As a result, he was relieved from his position.

In May, the Iowa Board of Regents announced that faculty, staff, students, and visitors would no longer be mandated to wear a mask on university grounds. O’Kane, however, required his students to wear masks at the beginning of the semester — calling it a hill he is willing to die on.

"Please set aside politics. Please set aside politics and rather than politics first, put our lives and our health first,” biology professor Steve O’Kane said in a message to state legislators reported by local news last week.

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“In other words, put what’s moral and ethical up in front of and before political considerations."

O’Kane directed Campus Reform to an essay that he wrote for Academe Blog, which explained that he told students “If you don’t wear a mask in class… you will not earn any daily lab points.”

“One student balked and I asked him if he’d be willing to wear a mask,” O’Kane wrote. “He again balked and I offered to get him a mask. He hesitantly said ‘yes,’ and I rounded up a paper mask. I’ve had to remind that student daily and another student nearly as often, but my class is masked.”

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O’Kane was relieved of his duty to teach his in-person course, and he must continue to teach his online course. Meanwhile, he must complete a training that addresses professional responsibilities relating to university policies and will receive no merit pay, according to CBS 2 Iowa.

The University of Northern Iowa released the following statement ot the local outlet, “UNI has processes in place to address violations of university and Board of Regents policy. After an internal review of actions by a single faculty member, the university has taken appropriate measures to uphold compliance with those policies on campus. We cannot comment further on personnel matters."

Campus Reform reached out to the University of Northern Iowa for comment; this article will be updated accordingly. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft