Classes Underway in Florida, Land of the Free

Many K-12 schools and universities have gone to remote instruction in response to the surge in COVID cases, but Florida remains the land of the free, with no COVID-related mandates. No mask mandates. No vaccine mandates. No mandated business closures or reductions in service. Mandates have been prohibited by the state legislature, at the urging of Governor DeSantis. In Florida, instruction is in-person and mandate-free.

The administration at Florida State University, where I teach, does not appear to have the same laissez-faire attitude as the legislature and the governor. The Spring semester is underway, and students and faculty have received emails from the university president and other administrators saying they expect people to wear masks, get vaccinated, and take other precautions. Numerous signs around campus remind us, “Face Coverings Are Expected.”

The passive voice in the signs makes it unclear who is expecting face coverings, but whoever they are, they must be disappointed. Many people do wear masks, but they are a minority. Most people, around campus and in class, are maskless. I have been teaching my classes without a mask, which seems justified because most of my students are not wearing them.

The widespread disregard of the mask expectation reminds me of the nationwide 55 mph speed limit from 1974 to 1995, which was widely disregarded. The authority of those in charge is eroded when they mandate things that are unpopular and are not followed. It appears that at Florida State University, people are more inclined to follow the governor’s idea that masks are not required rather than the administration’s view that they are expected.

I realize that people and policies vary quite a bit in different places around the nation, so wherever you are, I’m just letting you know how things are where I am. Policies toward the pandemic are controversial, regardless of what they are, and I’m confident that some readers will applaud the Florida “land of the free” policies while others will be appalled by them.

We shall see how this turns out, perhaps a few weeks or a month from now. Will a COVID surge disrupt campus activities, or will the “return to normal” policy succeed? As I noted in the opening paragraph, many places are taking a more cautious approach. A month from now, we will be able to look back and judge which approach did the least harm.

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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