Newly-hired Baylor professor forced to switch in-person class to online after refusing to wear mask

Baylor professor, Stephen Goniprow, refuses to wear a mask in his classroom, violating Baylor's COVID-19 policies. Olivia Martin | Photographer

By Ana Ruiz Brictson | Staff Writer

On the first Friday of Baylor’s fall semester, a political science professor refused to wear a mask in at least one of his in-person classes, forcing the university to move the class online.

Newly-hired professor and full-time temporary lecturer Stephen Goniprow used his first in-person class on “The U.S. Constitution, It’s Interpretation and the American Political Experience” to reflect on his personal opinions on Baylor’s COVID-19 protocols and the rights he has as a human.

His class, taken in Draper 130, has the capacity to hold over 250 students and currently has 241 students enrolled.

On Sept. 8, after Goniprow gave 10 in-person classes from the start of the semester, his class was moved to online instruction.

“Dear all, we will not be meeting in Bennett Auditorium today. Class will be conducted online. I will send you a link to join the virtual class shortly and will explain why this change has occurred at that time.” Goniprow wrote as a Canvas announcement for his class.

Even though Goniprow has declined The Lariat’s request for an interview, there are videos of his classes in which he mentions the situation and his point of view.

“I have refused to wear a mask, and so because I am not willing to wear a mask, the administration has determined, in light of this, it is not safe for us to be together and for me to teach and for you to learn in Bennett Auditorium, so that’s their call,” Goniprow said in his first class after being moved online. “In their view, it is not safe for us to be together, so I am simply reporting to you what they told me about their concern for your safety.”

The university announced on April 27 that they intended to go back to a normal fall semester for students, faculty and staff, depending on the decline in COVID-19 cases and guidance from the federal, state and local government and public health officials.

On Aug. 13, President Linda Livingstone announced the new COVID-19 protocols for the fall semester in an eNews alert. The announcement said students, faculty and staff will be required to wear face coverings in specific locations on campus, such as classrooms and labs.

Both the head of the Political Science Department, Dr. David Clinton, and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Lee Nordt, deferred The Lariat’s requests for comment to Lori Fogleman as the university’s spokesperson on the matter.

On Sept. 9, Fogleman said that Baylor administration was looking over the alleged incident and that it was investigating through the university’s proper protocols. There have been no further comments.

Students in Goniprow’s class have mixed opinions on their professor’s actions.

“A big part of his class is the natural unalienable rights that we have as being part of nature by being created,” Mansfield freshman Austin Brenneman, a student in Goniprow’s class, said. “He believes that either the government or an institution forcing you to wear something is, in a manner, violating your own right.”

Brenneman said he believes Goniprow didn’t like “the idea of somebody forcing you to wear a piece of clothing because he feels like that goes against his rights, and I would agree with him there.”

Another student in Goniprow’s class — who asked to remain anonymous for fear of academic retaliation — said Goniprow came into class and said, “OK, let me be very clear, I’m not wearing a mask because I can’t breathe.” The student said that after that announcement, many of their classmates began to take their masks off in the following lectures.

Another anonymous student in Goniprow’s class said some classmates sided with the professor saying, “You are a Constitution teacher, did they really think you’d wear a mask?”

Goniprow sent an email to his students one hour before his second Zoom class on Sept. 10, which said the following:

“The deputy provost and the associate dean have told me to relay the following message to all of you: ‘Because there has been some confusion on masking policy, I would like to make it clear that all students are required to abide by university policy and wear masks covering both mouth and nose as long as they are in the classroom, both this Friday and every other class day.'”

The same anonymous student said that during this Zoom class, Goniprow assigned a quiz for his students to take in person, where his teaching assistant would be in charge of proctoring.

Waco sophomore Tobias Smyers, a student in Goniprow’s class, said, “I thought it was kind of annoying because I think that the lecturer should be allowed to not wear a mask if they don’t want to.”

Smyers said he knows of other professors who also lecture without masks and doesn’t think it’s a big deal if professors are the only ones without masks.

“No one is going to get sick if the person lecturing is 10 feet away from every single person in the class and every single person is wearing a mask and most people have the vaccine,” Smyers said.

Three of the four students The Lariat interviewed claimed that in his first in-person class, Goniprow said that he refused to wear a mask and that because he wasn’t going to, he didn’t expect his students to wear them.

Smyers, however, said that that’s not what he heard.

“I don’t think his statement ever revolved around us wearing masks at all,” Smyers said. “If an educational institution requires [students] to wear a mask for school, that’s fine because it’s not going to inhibit your ability to learn. It’s not intended to separate us, and it’s not intended to be an impeachment of our freedoms. It’s just intended to keep us safe.”

As of Sept. 16, it is uncertain how Goniprow’s situation will be handled and whether the class will remain online or will become in-person again.