Columbia mask requirement to continue for ‘foreseeable future’

By Kamy Smelser, Staff Reporter

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Masks will continue to be a requirement in classrooms and inside campus buildings for the foreseeable future.

The announcement that Columbia will continue to enforce mask-wearing on campus was sent via collegewide email and also discussed during the Feb. 11 Faculty Senate meeting, after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the state’s mask mandate will be lifted Feb. 28.

An email from the Incident Assessment Task Force sent to students, faculty and staff on Feb. 10 said the decision was made because Pritzker’s office had not defined any policies for mask mandates in higher education.

In an email to the Chronicle Feb. 23, Chief of Staff Laurent Pernot said that while the city of Chicago has released plans to follow the state in lifting its mandate on Feb. 28, Columbia’s policy will remain the same.

Pernot also shared in the email that the college made an agreement with the part-time faculty union, or CFAC, to continue masking through the spring semester.

Pernot said he hopes to have a discussion about a possible lifting of the mandate on campus outside of the classroom, due to the improvement seen in campus COVID numbers, as there have been fewer than 10 cases a week for the past month, and the positivity rate has been lower than 1%.

“I think it’s everyone’s goal to see masks fully go away if the health situation allows for it,” Pernot said during the Faculty Senate meeting. “Obviously, campus numbers are looking really good. That said, a month ago they were horrible. We need to make sure this trend continues.”

Pernot said the school is paying close attention to the data presented by the CDC, which was considered initially when the statewide mask mandate was put in place. The data shows the current rate of community transmission in Cook County continues to be high, though it is declining.

Pernot expects that if the rate of cases per 100,000 continues falling, Columbia would soon begin discussing “loosening” mask-wearing in some areas on campus.

During a scheduled weekly meeting with Rush University Medical Center a week prior to the Faculty Senate meeting, Pernot said it was made clear classrooms are the last places a mask-wearing policy should be lifted, due to the close proximity of students and faculty in classes for extended periods of time. Pernot said the school will look to “relax” the mask mandate in other areas on campus before lifting the mandate in classrooms.

During the Faculty Senate meeting, David Worrall, professor in the Audio Arts and Acoustics Department, expressed concern about the educational experience his students are getting while wearing masks.

“It’s a combination of masks and the aural and visual effect of that in particular spaces,” Worrall said. “The fact that we’re using two sets of audio masks, for example, can considerably affect the ability for students to be able to hear properly in the frequency spectrum. … It’s a widespread issue within the department.”

After discussing the mask mandate on campus, the Faculty Senate moved to discuss current motions and other policy issues.

Jackie Spinner, an associate professor in the Communication Department, shared during the meeting the status of possible changes to the children on campus policy. She said the draft sent to the provost welcomes children on campus, “a reverse of the current policy.”

The Faculty Senate also discussed concerns regarding academic freedom from “excessive” Canvas oversight and monitoring from the college without permission or faculty knowledge.

“Yes, the college owns [the Canvas sites], and the college has authority over them, but what if we don’t know [the administration] is going in there?” asked Paul Amandes, associate professor in the Theatre Department. “It’s disconcerting and challenges concepts of academic freedom.”