I am an eleventh-year history professor at Augusta University. I did my doctorate. at USG’s oldest institution, the University of Georgia. I was born and raised in Atlanta, with family roots in Georgia dating back to the early 19th century. I have lived in Georgia for 36 of my 48 years. I am personally very invested in the state, and I care about its future.
We have had a variety of teaching setups over the past year. I have taught hybrid courses and divided my sections into subsections due to social distancing requirements and class capacity restrictions. I was in class every day, and although I have a doctorate. and not a doctor, I can say without ambiguity that I have seen the grim ebb and flow of COVID statistics unfold in the classroom with student absences, infections, weeks of illness and deaths of members of the family. The toll the pandemic took on students and their families was impossible to miss, especially in the middle of winter when things were at their worst.
Learn more about mask mandates:Augusta city administrator, committee recommends reinstating mask mandate in all city buildings
The math doesn’t lie: The cases, hospitalizations and deaths are as severe as they were in January. And what are the 19 USG welfare officers doing? Act as if everything is back to normal. Full capacity classrooms. No mask warrant – indeed, explicit prohibitions on any president of an institution of the United States government from issuing a mask warrant. It does not mean anything. It is a total failure of leadership. It is a disservice to the state and its young adults.
The institutions of the United States government are not private companies. They are not created for profit. They are a state enterprise, for the public good – the idea that college education for young adults is a good thing, for the good of young adults and for the state’s own future. I think very, very strongly of the AU students. They work hard, they aspire to do well, they don’t take college for granted, and they care about their families. The only thing I would criticize them on is that they think – like I did when I was their age – that they are invincible, that death is something that happens to old people. This is never true, of course, and we know the pandemic spares no one from its death toll. This is where adults in leadership roles serve in loco parentis – in the place of the parent, caring for the young adults in their care. The Council of Regents shies away from this fundamental responsibility. Instead of caring and worrying about the well-being of young adults, it is a free laissez-faire for yourselves. It is a failure of leadership and an abandonment of adult responsibility.
There is a common sense solution to this, and it is not difficult. Indeed, the Council of Regents implemented it last year. There was a system-wide mask mandate. Masks, it is clear, greatly reduce the spread of the disease. Everyone therefore had to wear one inside a USG building. The UA had two masks made for each student, staff and faculty member, in the school colors and with the school mascot. It wasn’t difficult, and it didn’t require much. And to those who say masks are a violation of personal rights – well, right here in Georgia, we demanded masks all last school year, and at the end of the school year, we still had our rights. .
Learn more about mask mandates:Columbia County Schools Cancel Mask Mandate, Effective September 29
Now the Board of Regents, it seems, is playing politics. Yes, they hold appointed and unelected positions. But it is evident that the virus has been politicized. From ‘Fire Fauci’ chants to the plot to kidnap the Michigan governor to governors, including our own, going on the offensive against mask warrants, a devastating pandemic and common sense measures to counter it have been turned into political rallying points. The politicization of what do not appear to be political issues is nothing new in our history. We’ve seen it before, and I’m sure we’ll see it again.
Being in politics right now is ruthless. The virus crosses national borders, political affiliations, etc. It is not political. My call to the Regents is this: For the remainder of this school year, implement the most basic safety measure you implemented last year – the Mask Mandate. If you are unwilling to do so, then I invite you – I urge you – to join one of my classes for the remaining 2/3 of this semester. You can relive college, maybe refresh your memory, maybe learn things you didn’t know. The only requirement is that you personally embody your own policy. Since masks aren’t important, you won’t wear one – even if you sit side by side with young adult students whose well-being, at least on paper, is your responsibility.
John Hayes is Associate Professor of History at Augusta University.