VICTORY! MIT drops controversial new mask policy prohibiting requests for others to mask up

March 24, 2022

After pushback from FIRE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology rescinded its controversial new mask policy that wrongly prohibited faculty, students, and staff from asking others to wear face coverings on campus. 

In a policy update posted yesterday to its website, MIT changed its campus mask policy, which last week banned “request[ing]” that others wear masks. The new language allows such requests, and narrows the prohibition to pressuring or coercing others to mask:

In situations where there are power imbalances, individuals are asked to be especially thoughtful in requesting a person to alter their masking practice since even well-meaning requests can be perceived to carry pressure or coercion.

MIT dropped its COVID-19-related campus-wide mask requirement on March 14, consistent with similar updates from state and local authorities. In an email to faculty and students that MIT also posted to its website, the new policy stipulated that departments “may not establish their own policies or requirements related to face coverings” and warned faculty that they “may not request or require that others wear masks.”

The university’s ban on mere requests that others mask up violated MIT’s free expression policies.

But as FIRE pointed out shortly thereafter, the university’s ban on mere requests that others mask up violated MIT’s free expression policies. FIRE wrote to MIT on March 17 and called on the university to “expediently update its policy and publicly clarify that students and faculty are not broadly banned from requesting that others wear masks — requests that recipients are free to deny, accept, or ignore.”

The updated policy no longer includes that requirement and clarifies that anyone who is “asked to wear a mask in an area where it is not required or to remove a mask in a particular situation [is] free to refuse.”

FIRE commends MIT for moving quickly to update the policy.

Schools:  Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cases:  Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Students Prohibited from Asking Others to Wear Masks