Some Clemson University professors are planning to walk out of their classrooms Wednesday to protest the school administration’s decision to not require masks in classrooms.
Kimberly Paul, an associate professor of genetics and chemistry, announced the protest on Facebook.
“The lack of a mask mandate is endangering the health and lives of all of us. University leadership is not listening to us. It’s time to take action,” she wrote.
Wednesday is the first day of classes. The protest was scheduled to last for eight hours on Bowman Field, a large field near the center of campus. Among the nearby buildings is Sikes Hall, where the university president’s office is located. It’s where ESPN sets up when College GameDay comes to town..
Pickens County, where Clemson is located, has a high incidence of COVID-19 cases, like all counties in South Carolina, and local schools went to virtual learning beginning this week.
Clemson announced it would return to full-time face-to-face classes without a mask mandate. The S.C. General Assembly aimed to block!! outlawed mask mandates in public schools earlier this summer, though that effort has been thrown into some legal question. The University of South Carolina attempted to institute a mask mandate inside campus buildings but walked back the requirement in light of an opinion by the state Attorney General.
Clemson officials said, however, they encourage mask wearing.
Andrew Pyle, associate professor of communication at Clemson, tweeted, “Struck by this right now – if @ClemsonUniv is unwilling to burn some political capital over a major public health issue, is there anything we’ll burn political capital for? I mean, what’s the point of having a huge amount of clout in the state if we won’t use it… to save lives?”
He also replied to a tweet from Clemson President James Clements, who said he was looking forward to the new student convocation. His tweet included two photos of a large student assembly in which no masks were apparent.
Pyle said, “Just to be totally clear – this [type of] gathering, w/o masks – this will be why we have to go online in a week. I hope, desperately, that none of our students, faculty, or staff contract long COVID – or, heaven forbid – die from this preventable illness.
Pyle said he was specifically asking tenured professors to walk out because their jobs are secure.
“I know many lecturers and staff will feel vulnerable,” he tweeted.
The organizers of the walkout noted Pickens County School District’s decision to go to virtual learning due to a high number of positive tests among students and staff.
On Friday, after nine days of school, 163 Pickens County students had tested positive, one was hospitalized, and 634 students were in quarantine. Also as of Friday, 26 employees had tested positive, and four had been hospitalized in the last month. Thirty employees are quarantined.
All Pickens County schools are closed and all school activities are canceled through Friday. District officials said they would announce plans for next week by Thursday.
“We have learned in the first nine days that we are dealing with a very different challenge than last year,” the district said in a statement. “Currently, in our state and county, the coronavirus Delta variant is spreading rampantly.”