UI walks back policy barring instructors from discussing masks

The university released an updated version of its fall 2021 policies for instructors, changing guidance on discussing masks in the classroom.


Katie Goodale

The Old Capitol building is seen on March, 6, 2021.

Rylee Wilson, Managing Editor

The University of Iowa has altered some of its previous guidance for faculty regarding COVID-19, including a policy that barred instructors from discussing mask-wearing with their class unless it was directly relevant to the curriculum. 

“You may also have discussions or make statements regarding mask usage as long as all sides have a voice in the conversation,” the new guidance states.

Instructors are still not permitted to require students to wear masks. 

On Aug. 12, the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors sent a letter to President Barbara Wilson, calling for faculty members to be able to request students wear masks, that faculty be allowed to hold virtual office hours, and permitted to move their classes online if they fear for their safety or that of their family. 

“​​Whenever we encounter fellow faculty members, we see fear, frustration, and anger caused by what they see as their inability to take reasonable precautions in the workplace during the pandemic,” the group wrote in the letter. 

The ‘Fall 2021 Q&A for instructors’, which was republished Tuesday after being taken down for revisions on Aug. 12, includes new recommendations for statements regarding masks that professors may include on a syllabus, including sharing their personal reasons for choosing to wear a mask. 

The first version of the Q&A did not mention any kind of statements for course syllabi. 

Instructors cannot penalize students for choosing to wear a mask, and can’t provide incentives like extra credit for students who mask up, or seat masked and until masked students in different areas of the classroom, according to the university’s guidance

While the new policy permits discussion of masks, the Q&A states “Instructors should be especially mindful to avoid discussing a student’s vaccination status.” 

The new Q&A also explicitly states that professors can hold office hours in-person or virtually. 

Masks are not required anywhere on the UI campus, aside from CAMBUS and in some research and health care settings. 

“The university encourages the use of face masks on campus, and strongly encourages the use of face masks in all classroom settings and during in-person office hours,” the updated guidance reads.