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University’s Compliance With Texas Governor’s Ban On Mask Mandates Triggers Anger From Faculty

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by Kendall Tietz

The University of Texas at Austin’s refusal to require students to wear masks or get vaccinated has angered faculty members who want to see stronger COVID-19 mitigation efforts, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Scientists at UT Austin proposed two scenarios that could play out this semester among the 50,000-person student body, the WSJ reported. As a public university, UT Austin must adhere to Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that prohibits government funded institutions from requiring masksvaccines or vaccine passports.

The scientists estimated that the use of mitigation efforts like twice-weekly surveillance testing would limit COVID-19 infections to a few hundred students, but less extensive measures could lead to around a quarter of the student body and faculty being infected by the end of the semester.

“Folks are hopping mad,” Patricia Maclachlan, professor of government and Asian studies, told the WSJ. She is in charge of a petition to get the university president to implement stricter efforts. Her petition was signed by over 800 faculty members and graduate students.

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“There is a real sense of betrayal and fear on campus,” she told the WSJ.

Cases at UT Austin are lower than what the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium originally predicted. From Aug. 31 until Sept. 8, 110 students and 9 faculty and staff tested positive for COVID-19 and 4,681 COVID-19 cases have been reported since march.

Protests are causing a divide between faculty and administrators, including the university’s president, Jay Hartzell, who is encouraging — but not requiring — students to wear masks and get tested and vaccinated, the WSJ reported.

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Hartzell said he knows faculty are angry over current COVID precautions, but the university is “going to follow the rules of the road as set forth by the state that we’re a part of. The people setting those policies are elected officials, they got there for a reason.”

“The path forward relies on personal responsibility — not government mandates,” Abbott said last month in regard to the prohibition of mask mandates.

One student, Clint Camp from Dallas, wasn’t wearing a mark in his computer science classroom, the WSJ reported. “I don’t really think about that much. It’s a Texas thing,” he said.

“I’m vaccinated,” another student, Sanjeev Panja, told the WSJ. “Most of the people around me are young. But I’m not trying to be belligerent. I will put a mask on if the people around me are uncomfortable.”

Law professor Stephen Vladeck said the lack of control faculty members have over COVID-19 mitigation efforts put them at odds with Hartzell, the WSJ reported.

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“They see him leaning too heavily toward the governor’s mansion and not protecting his own institution,” Vladeck said. “It’s the obligation of these universities to not just comply with governors but to be leaders and explain.”

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