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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

ASM, TAA express concern over mask mandate removal

University of Wisconsin-Madison’s decision to no longer require masks in indoor settings after March 12, the start of Spring Recess, has elicited puzzlement and irritation amongst members of student government and the Teaching Assistants Association.

The university noted in a news release that individuals will have different reactions to the mask mandate ending and that for some it may feel stressful. Associated Students of Madison and the TAA expressed their concerns about the mask mandate removal in interviews with The Daily Cardinal.

“This is so bad and, I would say, administratively untactful,” TAA Co-President John Walker said. “How and when they decide to do this and who they’re putting in danger and who they left out of the discussion, which has been their modus operandi since the start of this pandemic. This is so bad.” 

Walker also noted how the removal of the mask mandate negatively impacts professors, not just students. 

“Can you imagine being a professor right now, knowing that half of your 200 person class is going to Panama City or getting the last skiing in Denver,” said Walker. “Then they’re going to come back and they’re going to be allowed to not wear masks?”

Since the start of the semester, all students, employees and visitors were expected to wear masks inside campus buildings. Ending the mandate in the middle of the spring semester was unexpected, and many teaching assistants would not have accepted their jobs if they had known about the masking protocol earlier, according to Walker.  

“You have people who literally would not have taken teaching assistantships if they had known this was going to happen,” he said. “They’re stuck. They signed a contract. Do you quit? Do you lose out on 50% tuition? It’s an act in bad faith. They changed the rules halfway through the game.”

ASM stated in a press release that all four student Shared Governance Representatives on the COVID-19 Student Advisory Board voted to keep the mask mandate in place until the end of the spring semester. 

“The general consensus and understanding was that we were going to be in person but masked moving forward until the end of the semester,” ASM Shared Governance Chair Reez Bailey said. “As the Shared Governance Chair, I am a little bit disappointed that those [concerns of our representatives] were not met or the advice of that committee.”

Research strongly suggests that individuals who are vaccinated, boosted and wear a mask have a high degree of protection, regardless of what other individuals around them may choose, according to a UW-Madison news release. Currently, the CDC recognizes Dane County with high community transmission and recommends that everyone should wear a mask in public indoor settings. 

“It is extremely disappointing,” Shared Governance Campaign Director Kylie Hollenstein said. “Vast majority of Big 10 schools still do have mask mandates in place. I believe that's for good reason with a lot of the current home testing being used. I believe that the numbers currently are underestimated and an abundance of caution is the best move here.” 

TAA offers insight into what they would have done if they were placed in the university’s position to make a decision regarding the mask mandate.

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“I would have invited multiple leaders and people across the community, both on and off-campus, and said, ‘What's a good timeline? When do we want to do this? What do your people say?’” said Walker. “But that's not in existence here. If they were actually going to be inclusive… It definitely would not have happened on March 12.”

ASM is currently working on policies to propose to the administration that explore how to bring down the mask mandate on campus safely, according to Bailey. 

“We’re gonna want to protect individual students who want to affirm that they have the right to wear a mask wherever they want and that they won’t be penalized for wanting to keep it on,” he said. “We also stand with individual professors maintaining the right to have a mask mandate in their individual classrooms.”

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