University discusses lifting mask mandate before end of winter semester


Maggie Willard

OU leaders have discussed the possibility of lifting the on-campus indoor mask mandate before the end of the winter semester.

During last Thursday’s OU Senate meeting, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Britt Rios-Ellis and other members of OU leadership engaged in a discussion about potentially lifting the on-campus indoor mask mandate on March 18.

With the decline in new COVID-19 cases, the mandate has come up on campus in recent weeks. Oakland and Wayne county, among several others, have announced plans to lift mask mandates in public schools by the end of February. 

While the discussion occurred, the university has not committed to any plans to change the mask mandate at this point. 

In a statement provided to The Post by OU Director of Media Relations Brian Bierley, the university acknowledged that the idea of lifting the mandate was discussed and that they are encouraged by downward trends in cases.

Our goal is to continue maintaining safe classrooms while working with our infection control team and faculty members about any timing regarding when and if we rescind our mask mandate.

We are not planning on rescinding the mask mandates to follow the schedule of the county or public K-12 schools. However, we are watching closely for any new recommendations from the CDC that help guide our decision-making.

One plan discussed at that meeting, and brought forward by Graham Health Center leadership, was to consider March 18 as a possible date to consider moving from a mask mandate to strongly recommending mask wearing if COVID continues to trend down. This would provide us an opportunity to see if there are any spikes after our spring break.”

The possibility of lifting the mandate before the end of the winter semester was met with concerns from faculty and student leaders.

Faculty had concerns about the possibility of lifting the mandate, with leaders from Oakland University’s Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (OU AAUP) pointing to immuno-compromised community members and student expectations as reasons to keep the mandate through the end of the semester.

“The AAUP is deeply concerned about the potential of a premature suspension of the mask mandate,” OU AAUP President Karen Miller said. “Because faculty and students made decisions to participate in face-to-face instruction based on the assumption that masking would be mandated, that policy should remain in place through the semester. We have a number of faculty members who live with immune compromised people or young children who cannot yet be vaccinated. It is important that we defend their well-being. We would point to the fact that the vast majority of University Senate members supported a continuation of the mask mandate at the last senate meeting on Thursday, [Feb. 17].”

Oakland University Student Congress (OUSC) President Andrew Romano and Vice President Murryum Farooqi were both at the meeting and left concerned about what could be motivating the potential change in masking policy.

“One of the main reasons upper administration is considering dropping the mask mandate is that there seems to be an overwhelming amount of students who want the mask mandate gone,” Romano said. “The evidence that led them to this conclusion was that they are getting more angry emails than supportive ones about the mandate. Without knowing the mask mandate was in jeopardy those who support it likely had no reason to email administration about the issue, creating what could be a biased sample size.”

In an effort to make sure as many student voices are heard as possible on the mask mandate issue, OUSC and The Post are collaborating to host the Oakland University mask mandate student survey.

“If our university is going to pivot from their ‘listening to the science approach’ and adopt a ‘listening to the students’ approach on [COVID-19], I suggest they give every student a fair opportunity to share their perspective,” Romano said. “Which is why [OUSC] has created a Google form poll for students to be able to vote and comment their perspective on the mask mandate. I intend to meet with the administration and share the results of the poll, to ensure every student who wants to be heard will be heard on this issue.”

With the exception of a period last summer, OU has been consistent with mask wearing on campus since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to the latest available data, since the beginning of the year there have been 628 confirmed COVID-19 cases among the campus community. Cases peaked the week of Jan. 8 with 230 cases. There were 11 new cases reported last week. 

The Post will continue to follow this story. All students are strongly encouraged to participate in the student mask mandate survey.