Univ. of Northern Iowa professor says he does not regret implementing mask mandate, would do it again

Published: Oct. 8, 2021 at 7:44 AM CDT
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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KCRG) - A University of Northern Iowa professor put on leave for implementing a mask mandate in his classroom is now back to teaching.

Biology Professor Dr. Steve O’Kane came to an agreement with the dean and department chair for him to teach lecture classes virtually on Tuesdays, while another teacher will be in the classroom when students do lab work on Thursdays. The Iowa Board of Regents guidance makes it so mask mandates cannot be implemented.

It wasn’t in person, but O’Kane is happy to be back teaching his students.

“What Professor O’Kane loves most in the world is interacting with his own students,” he said.

O’Kane has no regrets. Masking is optional on campus, but O’Kane says he will put a mask mandate back in his classroom if cases remain high when he returns to in person teaching next semester, even if it gets him fired.

“I don’t wanna lose my job,” he said. “But I’m also not going to back down in terms of masks. For me to do that for me, the word would be ‘immoral.’”

One of O’Kane’s students tells TV-9 they are asking for a full or partial refund for the class since the format is not what they signed up for. In a statement, the university says, “UNI will listen to any concerns students may have and provide an appropriate response. We cannot comment further at this time.”

O’Kane says he’s not getting involved in how his students react, but he will continue to speak up for Iowa professors who want to require masks.

“We as biologist and science people and medical know it’s not the best that can be done,” said O’Kane. The best that can be done is when you’re in a group, you wear a mask.”

“Board and university policy has not changed and masks will not be mandated in the class,” UNI said in a statement. “As noted in previous statements from the university, under Board of Regents directives, neither the university nor faculty members can mandate that face coverings be worn on campus, including in classrooms. An exception to this is in limited spaces where masks are required, such as a healthcare or campus childcare setting or service.”

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