AAUP, COGS question legal standing of prohibition on instructors requiring masks in class


Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan

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

Caleb McCullough, Executive Editor

Two organizations representing University of Iowa instructors sent an email to UI President Barbara Wilson and other administration Sunday evening accusing the UI of being in violation of Iowa law with its policy that prevents instructors from requiring people in classrooms and personal offices to wear a mask.

The email, signed by UI American Association of University Professors President Loren Glass and Campaign to Organize Graduate Students President Hadley Galbraith, cites the statute in Iowa law that outlines rights for public employees.

“We have consulted a lawyer, who advises us that faculty, graduate instructors, and staff are public employees who have rights under Chapter 20,” the email said. “…Accordingly, we believe that faculty, graduate instructors, and staff have the right to require masking in their classrooms and personal offices for the purpose of mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and protecting our colleagues and coworkers represented by AAUP and COGS.”

Iowa Code Chapter 20, section 8, subsection 3, says public employees have the right to engage in “mutual aid or protection insofar as any such activity is not prohibited by this chapter or any other law of the state.”

The email said Glass and Galbraith plan to inform their organizations’ members that they have the right to require masks in classrooms in accordance with that section of Iowa Code, challenging UI and state Board of Regents policy.

“We therefore ask that you consult legal counsel and explain why the university has put into place measures that violate public employee rights under Iowa Code Chapter 20,” the email says.

In a reply to Glass and Galbraith on Monday, Wilson said the state Board of Regents handle collective bargaining with university employees, and she shared a statement from the regents’ office.

“The Board of Regents respects the rights of public employees to engage in concerted activity as protected by Iowa Code Chapter 20, which includes the ability of covered employees to work together to seek changes in employment policies,” the statement said. “Chapter 20 does not, however, give employees a right to unilaterally alter or violate existing employer policies.”

UI policy directs that instructors can’t require that students wear a face covering in the classroom or in office hours. The UI strongly encourages everyone to wear a mask in classroom settings, and instructors are allowed to emphasize that encouragement in class, but they can’t require or provide incentives for mask wearing, according to a 2021 FAQ for instructors.

Wilson said the university must follow state law and the guidance of the regents, who’s policy states no one on regents-governed university can be required to wear a mask in most settings.

Wilson said the university is taking many steps to prevent COVID-19 spread on campus, including:

  • Strongly encouraging vaccination and mask-wearing on campus.
  • Requiring masks in health care settings and on CAMBUS in accordance with federal law and the state Board of Regents’ guidelines.
  • Providing disposable masks and hand sanitizer in every building.
  • Following CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Upgrading air handling units to MERV 13 filters, where capable.
  • Purging daily air by activating HVAC systems at least two hours prior to occupancy, where capable.
  • Adjusting operations to maximize airflow during occupancy, increasing filtration and fresh air, where capable
  • Weekly monitoring of wastewater for all residence halls
  • Providing KN95 masks for faculty and students who would like them
  • Working with immunocompromised faculty and staff on accommodation.
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