ASU System Votes to Unmask


Blanton Matthews

ASU votes unanimously to end mask mandate and social distancing requirement systemwide as the pandemic winds down.

The Arkansas State University System Board of Trustees met at Henderson’s Garrison Center on the morning of Thursday, June 3. Among the resolutions presented was one to rescind the requirement for face coverings on ASU System campuses. At the state level, the requirement for masks to be worn on university campuses is set to expire on June 28, any mask rules would have to be made at the university level.

The statewide mask mandate and social distancing rules were implemented by an executive order from Governor Asa Hutchinson on July 16, 2020. On August 12, the ASU System Board of Trustees issued a mask mandate for their campuses with no expiration date, so that it would have to be rescinded by an active vote rather than be allowed to expire. Hutchinson signed Act 1002 into law on April 29, ending all mask requirements for the state as well as all requirements at the local level in the state of Arkansas.

The decision to rescind all mask requirements on ASU campuses—including but not limited to local schools Henderson and ASU Three Rivers—was passed by a unanimous voice vote. Now the individual campuses can make their own mask rules or lack thereof. The text of the resolution “authorizes each ASU System campus to adopt policies consistent with state law and applicable public health guidance.”

This is not a negative requirement, that is to say masks are still an option for anyone who chooses to continue wearing one.The only change is to the rules requiring the wearing of masks and the enforcement thereof.

“Any member of our university community or our guests who wish to continue to wear a mask is certainly welcome to do so,” Dr. Jim Borsig, interim Chancellor of Henderson said.

This comes at a time when less than a third of Arkansans are vaccinated against COVID-19, the fourth lowest rate among US states and territories above only Alabama, Mississippi, and the US Virgin Islands. Current CDC guidance holds that fully vaccinated individuals need not wear masks in public, but there is no way to know someone’s vaccination status for certain, and with such a low number of Arkansans vaccinated it seems likely that many unvaccinated individuals will be going maskless on campus and in the state at large.

While mask rules will not be enforced for anyone on campus, it is recommended that anyone who chooses to go maskless be fully vaccinated. Henderson is hosting vaccine clinics throughout the month of June at the Garrison Center on campus, for anyone over the age of 18 not yet vaccinated. The doses provided are the Johnson and Johnson brand, which requires only a single dose and as such students can be fully vaccinated without having to wait a month and a half before safely removing their masks.

“Voluntary vaccination opportunities are being offered as a part of each Heartstart this summer and we will do the same at the beginning of Fall semester 2021,” said Dr. Borsig in an email.

Among other resolutions passed at the meeting were a resolution not to increase tuition for any ASU schools except Henderson, which will see a 2.3% increase, and a resolution to change the name of ASU Jonesboro’s Military Science building after Lieutenant Colonel Fredrick C. Turner, Jr., the first Black graduate and first Black professor at Arkansas State University. Those resolutions also passed by unanimous voice vote.

Henderson Student Affairs sent an email to all currently enrolled students informing them of the change in policy on Sunday afternoon. According to that email, the policy would go into effect the following day, Monday June 7.