University surveys students, staff and faculty about transition to mask-optional policy

Point Park community votes in favor of mask-optional policy


Photo by Jake Dabkowski

Existing mask-mandatory policy reminder posted outside of Boulevard Apartments

Written By Zack Lawry, Co-News Editor

More than two years after first going into lockdown, Point Park is now collecting feedback from community members about whether the school should transition from the mandatory indoor mask policy that has been in place since the Fall 2020 semester.


Surveys have been sent out to faculty members, staff members and students over the last two weeks. 


During a faculty meeting on March 7, the university announced plans to conduct a survey among faculty and staff regarding the mask policy. The survey was intended to gauge responses to the potential transition from the mandatory mask policy — which has been in place since the initial return to campus after the first COVID-19 lockdown that forced classes to be conducted remotely — to a mask-optional policy.


On March 10, a survey was sent to members of faculty and staff via email asking whether or not they would be in support of a mask-optional policy on campus.


“The surveys are designed to gather opinions to assist with future decisions concerning the wearing of masks on campus,” Managing Director of Marketing and Public Relations Lou Corsaro said. “The University will make its decisions around other points of information, such as CDC recommendations, case counts, transmission rates and hospitalizations.”


On March 17, Choncek announced the outcome of the staff and faculty poll in another email.


“Overall, 72% of respondents (324/451) indicated that they were in favor of a transition to a mask-optional policy,” Choncek said. “64% of the faculty (141 out of 222) indicated that they were in favor of a transition to a mask-optional policy. 80% of the staff (181 out of 227) indicated that they were in favor of a transition to a mask-optional policy.”


Among faculty, around 37%, 81 out of 222 responses, were against adopting mask optional policy. With the staff, 20%, or 46 out of 227 responses, were not in favor of lifting the mask requirement. 


Originally, no announcement had been made about an equivalent survey for the student body when a faculty survey had been discussed during faculty assembly. On March 16, the Student Government Association (SGA) distributed its own survey to the student body. The survey included multiple questions about students’ concerns with their safety and feelings on the existing mandate.


The SGA survey, which was also conducted via email, was accompanied by a message stating that, “to properly assess the opinions of the student body, the Student Government Association is collecting survey responses on Point Park University’s current mask policies.”


However, SGA’s survey was created independently of the university itself, unlike the faculty and staff survey that was distributed directly by administration. This led to some concerns that students’ input would not be considered when making the decision on whether or not to amend the policy, though these concerns were alleviated just hours after SGA’s survey was sent to students when the university sent out a survey of their own.


“One of my earlier concerns was that the students hadn’t been consulted, but I got an email yesterday with the results of a polling of the students,” said Center for Student Success tutor Paul Spiker.


Corsaro also clarified that “the goal was to get feedback from our entire campus community,” stating that the student survey had always been planned despite not being announced alongside the faculty and staff survey. Additionally, Corsaro also said that the SGA poll did not influence the university’s student survey.


Associate Vice President of Institutional Research and Planning Chris Choncek sent a link to the survey on March 16 in an email to the student body.


“With the diminished case counts, transmission rates, hospitalizations, and the recent recommendations made by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) associated with the COVID-19 virus, and the questions we are receiving about the continued wearing of masks, Point Park University would like to gather some important information,” Choncek said. “Point Park University would like to take this opportunity to gather opinions from students on the masking requirement. The information gathered will assist in making future decisions concerning the wearing of masks on campus. The university will continue to make decisions based on the premise that the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff is paramount.”


Each of the surveys was open for responses for a few days, with results being announced shortly thereafter. 


Two days after the results of the faculty and staff surveys, on March 19, Choncek sent a message to the student body with the results of their poll, stating that “75% of the students (570/757) indicated that they were in favor of a transition to a mask-optional policy.”


The results of the two surveys have garnered mixed responses, both in regard to the outcome of the vote itself as well as the level of participation.


According to the emails sent by Choncek, the survey collected feedback from 451 faculty and staff, in addition to 570 students. The university employs 1,097 members of faculty and staff as of the Fall 2021 Semester, according to the Point Park University’s Fact Sheet. The most recent figure cited on the fact sheet for enrollment is based on the Fall 2020 Semester, in which 3,505 students were enrolled.


Though these figures are not necessarily accurate to the current Spring 2022 Semester, using them as a baseline indicates that an estimated 41% of faculty and staff participated in the survey, in addition to an estimated 16% of the student body.


Although not exact, these numbers are indicative of a relatively low turnout for the survey, with less than half of faculty and staff and under a quarter of the student population choosing to participate.


Despite the lack of participation, Spiker was satisfied with the delivery of the survey.


“I have no issues with the way that the surveys were conducted,” he said. “There’s probably no perfect way to reach this many people at once.”


However, the limited reach of the survey was not the only aspect that has received criticism. Jennifer Schaupp, a professor in the School of Communications, expressed potential concerns with the formatting of the questions themselves.


“We were only asked two questions, although there was [also] a box that said, ‘if you have more to add,’” Schaupp said. “I don’t know if they’re even going to consider what people are saying in those boxes, because I did write in those boxes so people would understand where I was coming from.”


Schapp felt that the brevity of the survey, while convenient, oversimplified a nuanced issue, only leaving a small space for further elaboration on opinions about the policy, which she is concerned may be ignored by the university entirely. 


“I was thinking, and on the one hand, it was very easy and efficient. I like that there was a box where I could add more but, again, I don’t know what’s happening with the box,” she said. 


Additionally, Schaupp said she also felt that further clarification was necessary on how the new policy would affect other protocols.


“If we go mask-optional, how is quarantining going to work? Right now, if everyone’s masked and someone finds they don’t feel well, they go home,” she said. “They talk to the nurse — hopefully — but now if someone’s next to someone, and they’re both unmasked, how are they [the university] going to tackle that?”


On March 22, the Office of President Don Green issued a statement with an updated mask policy, making masks optional throughout campus except for in instructional areas (such as classrooms) and elevators.