As many are adjusting to the start of a new semester, some students are raising concerns regarding mask usage among professors and fellow students.
In multiple tweets from students, professors can be seen without masks while in Texas A&M classrooms and buildings. On the subject of face coverings, the Office of the Provost’s website states that masks are required indoors as well as outdoors if physical distancing is not possible. When wearing a mask, it is also important to cover your nose and mouth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Applied mathematical sciences senior Isaac Ray said he has seen this issue since the fall 2020 semester, specifically among older professors.
“Last semester, I had a smaller class, sort of a seminar-style class, in the math department,” Ray said. “The professor was quite old and frequently ... if someone showed up to class he would have them sit in the back row and take off his mask and be like, ‘Well, I don’t think there’s a ton of risks with people here in the back row, and I’m all the way at the front of the classroom.’”
Another concern Ray sees is students and faculty alike either not wearing their masks correctly or generally unconcerned about wearing their masks at all.
“In my numerical analysis class, the professor would generally wear her mask, but usually, I’d say most of the time, it would be below her nose and [she was] not really wearing it properly,” Ray said. “Just the other day, I had a professor come in for a seminar to start the class — no mask at all. After about five minutes he was like, ‘Oh, I forgot about my mask,’ which [was] kind of, you know, brazen about it.”
Animal science sophomore “Jane,” who prefers to remain anonymous, reported the mask requirement was ignored in both the lecture and lab portions of her animal production systems class. Specifically, she said this has been an issue with her lab instructor.
“During the first week, when she was kind of introducing herself, she said, ‘I’m not a fan of the masks,’ and other people started agreeing with her,” Jane said. “And she said, ‘If anyone has a problem wearing a mask, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.’”
Regardless of whether someone wants to wear a mask, it is a university mandate to wear masks on campus, especially indoors, Jane said.
“I didn’t really think that was appropriate for her to say at all, given that we’re still in a pandemic and we’re required to wear masks on campus,” Jane said. “I don’t think [there] should be any exception for someone who is able to wear a mask.”
Jane said the students who agreed with the lab instructor eventually discarded their masks during the second week’s lab.
“The following week, I walked in and [our instructor] wasn’t wearing a mask, and about half the class wasn’t wearing a mask,” Jane said. “I asked one of the students if she required masks anymore, and the student said, ‘I think she’s being a bit more lenient since some people didn’t want to wear them.’ So, [there] was really no reason other than they just don’t like wearing masks.”
In a recent lecture, Jane said a member of the university came to speak to the entire class.
“Today in my lecture, they had one of the department heads come in and say that they’re aware of the incident, and she basically said, ‘We have a mask requirement on campus and anyone that has their mask below their nose right now needs to pull it up. This is not an option,’” Jane said.
According to the Office of the Provost, masks must be worn on campus unless eating, drinking or exercising, and physical distancing must be practiced at all times when possible. Jane said the actions of the lab instructor and some of the students in the lab should not be tolerated.
“It’s inexcusable, honestly. As a faculty member, she knows that we are required to wear masks on campus,” Jane said. “Every student, faculty, staff member and visitor knows that it is a requirement to be on campus. I think it was inappropriate of her to just openly state her personal views on wearing masks, and to take it off and be okay with other students doing the same.”
Dean of the School of Public Health Shawn Gibbs is addressing the COVID-19 response at the university after former Provost Carol Fierke’s departure. He said he has heard reports of mask protocol violations; however, he more commonly sees people forgetting to put their masks back on when going to a public area.
“There’s a difference between an innocent mistake like that and someone actively not doing it,” Gibbs said. “If someone is actively not doing it, there are mechanisms to report them, and you should. It’s really just part of selfless service. It’s just part of protecting those around you.”