UT professors strongly encourage students to get vaccinated, wear masks in classrooms

Marisa Huerta, Kaushiki Roy, News Reporters

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the August 23 flipbook.

Some UT professors would like to enforce greater COVID-19 safety precautions, such as masking in their classrooms, despite laws and University guidance prohibiting mask mandates and vaccination requirements.

University spokesperson Eliska Padilla said professors cannot mandate masks in their classrooms, but they can offer non-academic incentives to students to encourage masking as long as state or University funds do not pay for them. The University also announced Tuesday professors can reduce classroom capacity or move classes entirely online until Sept. 17.

UT will provide free masks to faculty and staff at the William C. Powers, Jr. Student Activity Center and Texas Union hospitality desks.

Ayelet Haimson Lushkov, an associate professor of classics, said while any mitigation measure is a step in the right direction, class size reduction and remote learning at the beginning of the semester is not enough.

Lushkov said she wants the course flexibility UT is offering for the first three weeks of school to extend throughout the semester or until the city obtains higher vaccination levels and a pediatric COVID-19 shot.

“Since we don’t have a mask or vaccine mandate in place, remote instruction is not only the safest (option) but will also provide the most consistent experience this term,” Lushkov said.

If in-person classes do continue and the University cannot require that professors implement safety measures in class, Lushkov said professors should be able to require masks if they choose.

“You’re protecting not just yourself, but vulnerable members of the community as well: anyone from your aging grandma, to your immunocompromised buddy, to my kids, who are too young to be vaccinated,” Lushkov said. “I’d ask students to be responsible for their behavior outside the classroom.”

Lushkov said incoming UT students will increase the infection rate in Austin, and the University should plan accordingly.

“Given that the UT Modeling Consortium is forecasting 11,000 students infected with COVID-19 by the end of the term, we need as robust a mitigation strategy as we can get so we can protect our campus community and ensure a consistent, high-level education for our students,” Lushkov said.

Anthropology professor Pauline Strong said in an email she is worried about unvaccinated individuals putting others at risk.

“I am especially concerned about people in our class and social circles who may be immunocompromised or unvaccinated, including my young grandchildren,” Strong said. “I will direct students to information about public health recommendations, engage in discussion and hope that we will all commit ourselves to following public health guidelines.”

Strong said she supports remote teaching and will strongly recommend that students wear masks inside classrooms.

Additionally, Strong said she believes that professors should protect their students’ health and safety, and in return, students should be fully vaccinated, wear masks indoors, practice social distance and test regularly.

“UT is more than students and faculty, we have a huge staff who is absolutely crucial to making the University run,” Lushkov said. “We look after our entire community, even ones we don’t encounter every day. Conversely, when we don’t, we’re risking the lives of many, many people beyond the classroom.”