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Complaint filed against UNI & Board of Regents after professor disciplined over mask policy, students speak out

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KWWL) -- The Union representing faculty at the University of Northern Iowa filed a complaint Monday after a professor was disciplined for his mask policy.

Professor Steve O'Kane was pulled from teaching in person classes after he told students he would lower their grades if they failed to comply with the mask requirement within his classroom. He can only teach online for the rest of the semester.

His requirement went against the Iowa Board of Regents which has denied the implementation of a mask mandate at Iowa universities.

Click here for the letter sent to O'Kane and his response.

United Faculty told KWWL it filed a prohibited practice complaint against the Board of Regents and UNI on Monday.

United Faculty Vice President and UNI Professor Christopher Martin told KWWL in an email that the Board of Regents' policy isn't law and that Dr. O'Kane didn't break any law. 

"Chap. 20 of the Iowa Code gives public employees the right 'to organize for mutual aid and protection as long as the action is not prohibited by law,'" Martin said. "In this case, Dr. O'Kane was standing up for the right of his fellow faculty to teach in a safe and health environment during a pandemic," 

Dr. Martin said that Dr. O'Kane's own students support him. Students of his classes are also beginning to speak out. Abigail Malone, a senior biology student, says the university's actions are hypocritical.

"We're told all the time in my classes that we're biologists, and to be punished for standing up for science is unacceptable to me," Malone said.

She hopes between the union, the public and the students they can create change in the policy. Malone says since the initial announcement Wednesday, her and other students have been showing up to the classroom they're supposed to have class in, and speaking out about their disappointment. 

"I'm disappointed in the university, I'm disappointed in the Board of Regents, and I really call on them to retract their decision and bring Dr. O'Kane back," she concluded.

The union is helping Dr. O'Kane appeal the disciplinary actions against him.

The University provided a statement on Monday, saying in part:

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