UT Interim President Jay Hartzell announced the University will require face masks or coverings inside all campus buildings in an email June 8. Masks are not required while walking around campus, but they are recommended, according to the email.
Students, faculty and staff who refuse to wear face masks inside University buildings this fall will face disciplinary action, and the UT Police Department will handle noncompliant visitors, head of academic planning Art Markman said.
There are four groups to consider when enforcing the face mask policy: students, staff, faculty and visitors, psychology professor Markman said. If any person from these groups enters a building without a face mask, they will be asked to put one on. If they refuse, they will be asked to leave the building.
“There are separate disciplinary tracks for violations of University rules, … and now wearing a mask would be a University rule, and so those would be engaged,” Markman said.
Markman said if a student comes to class without a mask and refuses to put one on, the faculty member can end the class.
Visitors without a mask who refuse to leave a building would be considered trespassers, and UTPD would get involved, Markman said.
Markman said cloth masks are encouraged because they are reusable, though surgical masks are also acceptable.
“I think that the growing consensus in the medical community is that face masks are one of the most important things that people can do to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Markman said. “That was an early recommendation that came from our health and wellness group based on their reading of … the medical literature as well as the guidelines that came out from the Centers for Disease Control on reopening universities.”
Public health junior Nora Ballí said she supports the face mask policy because it will help keep campus cases from increasing.
“The University’s decision to require face masks is a responsible decision in order to protect the students and staff,” Ballí said in a direct message. “The UT community is densely populated, so social distancing will be a challenge … trying to mitigate the spread within buildings is the only way we will prevent a spike.”
Mathematics junior Evan Florance said he’d prefer if UT made face masks optional.
“I don’t think we need to be forced to wear them when Texas is doing very well against coronavirus compared to most other states,” Florance said.
Markman said the University is unsure how many masks they will be able to provide, if any, but they will be provided for UT employees who work close to customers, such as dining hall staff.
“We certainly hope to have places on campus where people can buy them so that if you wake up one morning and forget your mask, you're not stuck,” Markman said.
While face masks are expected to be required for the entire school year, Markman said his team will continually reevaluate the policy in regards to how guidelines should be tightened or loosened.
“This is just … one part of the variety of steps that we're taking to … try to keep the community as safe as possible so we have a great year,” Markman said.