On March 4th, the University of Chicago ended its on-campus mask requirement for “most non-medical campus office settings, on-campus residence halls, retail stores, and dining spaces.” However, the university has still required masks in classrooms during instruction until the end of Winter Quarter.
As reported by the Chicago Thinker, no explanation was given for this discrepancy other than “to maintain continuity for students and instructors in classroom settings.”
The Thinker contacted the university for an official statement on its new policy, seeking clarification on the meaning of the phrase “to maintain continuity.” The Thinker also asked the university to explain its criteria for making some spaces mask-optional and others mask-required, given that the rules appear arbitrary when considering that dorms, dining halls, and libraries have much higher traffic than classrooms.
In its response to the Thinker, the university refused to address either of these questions, instead repeating vague statements.
“The University’s intention is to maintain a consistent masking policy in classrooms through the end of the quarter,” wrote university spokesperson Gerald McSwiggan (who has still yet to respond to the Chicago Thinker’s request for comment on a discriminatory dining hall policy).
McSwiggan added, “The policy applies to instructional spaces during instruction, including lab activities that are part of a registered course. Speakers may pull down their mask temporarily while actively speaking or presenting in order to be heard or understood.”
Throughout the pandemic, the university has maintained that policy decisions would be based on the guidance of “experts at UChicago Medicine,” which the university has failed to make available to the public. Additionally, by keeping the mask mandate in classrooms, the university deviates from the guidance of the City of Chicago, which ended its indoor mask requirement on February 28th.
As of now, questions remain unanswered. If the university is concerned with maintaining “continuity,” why was the mask mandate lifted in some indoor spaces but not others? What distinguishes classrooms as needing “continuity” while dorms and libraries do not? And what exactly does the university even mean by “continuity”?