To Mask, Or Not? A State of Resistance

The state of resistance, in this case, is Florida. Many readers will be aware that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has prohibited mask mandates in the state, and faced some resistance from local school boards that have imposed mask mandates in defiance of the governor’s prohibition. Meanwhile, where I teach, at Florida State University, the word is that face coverings are expected, falling short of a mandate and remaining within the bounds of the governor’s prohibition on mandates.

In a recent post in The Beacon, I contemplated whether I should wear a mask to class. Throughout campus, there are signs that say Face Coverings are Expected, but as I noted, not mandated. Classes are now back in session, and that decision was easier than I contemplated.

When I got to campus, few people were wearing masks outside, and many were maskless inside the building. In my classes, only about half of the students wore masks. With half the class unmasked, there seemed to be little point in my wearing one, so I didn’t.

Subsequently, I received an email (to all faculty) from the president of the faculty union noting that “students are not following FSU’s ‘expectation’ that masks are to be worn indoors” and asking me to sign a petition to the university’s president and Board of Trustees making masks mandatory.

I doubt that many readers are interested in my own personal experiences, but I do think it is interesting to see (1) how things are playing out in a state that prohibits mask mandates, and (2) how college students view an expectation that they wear masks indoors.

From their own actions, it is clear that many students resist attempts to pressure them into wearing masks. Some students who were wearing masks told me that they did not care whether others wore them, but chose to wear one just to prevent other people from feeling uncomfortable. Among college students, anyway, masks and mask mandates are not popular.

Meanwhile, in a state that prohibits mask mandates, some people in positions of authority (university administrators, a faculty union president, and school boards across the state) are demanding and in some cases implementing their own policies that violate the governor’s policy.

The policy prohibiting mask mandates comes from the governor. So, I do find it interesting that the president of our faculty union will present a petition to the university president and Trustees, rather than to the governor.

Suppose they were to succeed, resulting in a mask mandate at the university. Would those on campus then recognize the authority of the president and Trustees and mask up, or would they recognize the higher authority of the governor and claim it is still their choice?

My previous post on the subject referred to some people as anti-authoritarian authoritarians. They seem to be trying to claim authority over those below them while trying to undermine the authority of those above them. I’m watching with interest.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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