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Professor Who Required Masks Now Allowed to Teach Online

October 8, 2021

The University of Northern Iowa will now allow a professor disciplined for requiring masks in his lab-based course on plant science to teach the course online. Last month, the university removed Steve O’Kane, professor of biology, from teaching the course altogether for violating an Iowa Board of Regents policy against classroom mask mandates.

“This was all worked out with my [department] chair and the dean; I really appreciate what they did, I don’t hold either of them responsible. In fact, they both should be applauded for their efforts,” O’Kane told the Iowa City Press-Citizen. “The problem here lies with the Board of Regents.”

Steve Schmadeke, university spokesperson, said in a statement that “board and university policy has not changed and masks will not be mandated in the class.” O’Kane will instead teach his plant systematics course and lab online, and “another high-qualified professor will handle other classroom duties,” Schmadeke added. “UNI continues to support the rights of all our faculty, staff and students and is pleased to have reached a resolution that protects all of those involved.”

Prior to the agreement, O’Kane’s students had campaigned publicly and internally for his reinstatement to professor of record for the course.

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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