A University of Northern Iowa biology professor who earlier this semester required his students to wear masks — violating state Board of Regents and university rules that forbid such mandates — has been stripped of his in-person teaching responsibilities for the remainder of the semester, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported on Thursday.
Steve L. O’Kane will continue teaching his virtual classes this semester, the Gazette reported, citing a letter he received from a dean. But as punishment, he must complete training that will address his “professional responsibilities as a faculty member.” He will also receive a “needs improvement” performance grade for the entire academic year, meaning he won’t be eligible for merit pay.
The letter reminded O’Kane to comply with the university’s masking policy or risk disciplinary action “up to and including termination.” O’Kane had told The Gazette he threatened to lower students’ lab grades if they didn’t mask up.
“Based upon this information, it is apparent you have acted in violation of university and (Board of Regents) policy by requiring masks of [your] students,” the letter states, according to the Gazette. “Further, you have violated UNI policy 6.10 regarding your responsibilities to your students by threatening to lower your students’ grades should they refuse to comply with your self-imposed mask mandate.”
O’Kane, who is 64 and has been working at the university for 26 years, told the newspaper he would require masks again if given another opportunity to teach in person. But he’s only three years away from retirement, he told the paper, so he has less to risk than some of his colleagues.
O’Kane previously told The Gazette he was willing to be fired. “I have made it clear to the administration that I am willing to be terminated for my actions,” he said. “Of course, I would immediately sue the university and the Board of Regents if that were to come to pass.”
In a statement to the newspaper, the university said it is “deeply committed to the health and safety of our campus community.”
It added, in part: “Under Board of Regents directives, neither the university nor faculty can mandate that masks be worn on campus, including in classrooms. … After an internal review of actions by a single faculty member, the university has taken appropriate measures to uphold compliance with those policies on campus.”