Boston College should allow professors to implement mask mandates in their classrooms. A professor’s classroom is their own space, and the University should support its faculty by allowing them to make their own decisions regarding their personal and professional safety. The University has a responsibility to safeguard the well-being of all members of the BC community, and allowing for individual classroom mask mandates is essential to providing a safe working environment for professors.
As of the beginning of the semester, 99.3 percent of the BC community has been vaccinated against COVID-19, and the University should be commended for its decisiveness in mandating full vaccination of students and faculty before the start of the fall semester. BC’s commitment to vaccination has alleviated the need for a strict mask mandate like the one implemented last year, but all members of the BC community should still be conscientious of those who are at elevated risk for serious complications from COVID-19 infection.
The majority of students live with fellow students, all of whom have been vaccinated, with very few exceptions. This is not the case for faculty, who may live with family, friends, and roommates that may be unable to get vaccinated or are immunocompromised. Many professors have disclosed personal information to their students—including the vaccination and health status of their own families—in order to persuade them to wear masks in class. A professor should not have to disclose personal information in order to maintain their personal safety and the safety of their loved ones.
After the history department requested that students wear masks during class, Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean Rev. Gregory Kalscheur, S.J. sent an email to history majors and minors stating that, “Faculty members are free to encourage or invite students to wear masks should students be more comfortable doing so, but it is not appropriate for them to require students to do so.” Not allowing professors to require masks in their classrooms forces the burden of personal safety to fall upon professors’ shoulders, and puts personal safety in contention with professional safety. Some professors have told students that they want students to wear masks in their classes, but feel uncomfortable asking them to do so out of fear of being disciplined by the University.
Faculty come to classrooms to teach. Being in a classroom does not mean they consent to the dangers posed by large, maskless events such as football games. Students and community members who do attend such events assume the risk of these dangers, but in doing so they have the potential to carry those dangers into the classroom with them. The classroom is the professor’s space, so they should be able to implement a mask mandate in their own individual classrooms in order to mitigate these dangers without fearing backlash from the administration.
It is important to note that The Heights is not advocating for a campus-wide mask mandate. At this point, The Heights Editorial Board does not find it necessary, but over 300 professors have signed a letter requesting a classroom mask mandate. This is a notable act that deserves proper recognition. The University should support professors’ rights to personal and professional safety and allow for a policy that permits the implementation of individual classroom mask mandates.