Clemson, 3 other S.C. institutions mandate masks after state Supreme Court ruling

University of South Carolina gets to reinstate face coverings.

Four colleges and universities in South Carolina have installed mask requirements on campus to start the 2021-22 academic year after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that a temporary law did not “prohibit a universal mask mandate” at public higher education institutions.

Clemson University, the University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston and Trident Technical College all imposed mandates for students, faculty and staff after the ruling, which effectively stated that institutions could not single out unvaccinated students to wear masks but could do so for all.

According to the Supreme Court, “nothing in the proviso manifests the General Assembly’s intent to prohibit all mask mandates at public institutions of higher learning. Instead, the proviso clearly prevents state-supported institutions of higher education from using funds from the 2021-2022 appropriations to fund efforts requiring only unvaccinated individuals to wear face masks.”

At Clemson, the timing was significant as classes begin today. The university’s policy will be temporary, however. The new mandate did not stop a staged walkout on campus from occurring this morning on Bowman Field, led by professor Kimberly Paul. University of South Carolina faculty also have a planned protest scheduled for Thursday to address health concerns related to COVID-19.

“The reinstated mask mandate is for ‘at least 3 weeks’,” Paul wrote on Facebook. “This is puzzling policy and a partial measure. Clearly, we still have some work to do regarding reinstating a mask policy. Clemson needs to be all in on masks for the semester. We have part of what we wanted, a mask policy. So let’s use this gathering to have a teach-in and share information about Covid-19, the importance of masking and other mitigation measures.”

More from UB: State-by-state college and university mask mandates

The University of South Carolina, which opens its classrooms on Friday, had implemented a mask policy in late July, only to have it halted in an interpretation by the state’s attorney general, Alan Wilson.

Interim USC President Dr. Harris Pastides said in a statement after the ruling that “we were the first institution in the state to mandate face coverings. I will require the use of face coverings in our buildings, effective immediately, as an effective strategy in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of all members of our Gamecock community to help protect ourselves and others by adopting sound public health practices as we continue our efforts to safeguard our campus against this still-evolving health concern.”

Wilson offered his rationale for the Court’s decision.

“While we disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling, we certainly understand its rationale and anticipated this was a reading the Court could give,” he said in a statement. “In fact, the Court quoted our letter to President [Harris] Pastides that stated the proviso could be read another way. While the proviso was not clear, we think the legislature’s intent was, so now it’s up to the University of South Carolina to address this matter in light of the General Assembly’s position.”

The College of Charleston’s Board of Trustees has approved the mask mandate though it has not formulated a strategy yet. It opens classes next Wednesday.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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