Newcastle’s Head of Philosophy has written an anti-mask blog
‘None of us is ever really safe’
Two Newcastle University lecturers, including the Head of Philosophical Studies, have spoken out against the University’s decision to require all staff to wear a face covering while teaching.
In a post to lockdownsceptics.org, the anti-mask blog founded by controversial social commentator Toby Young, department head Dr Michael Lewis and lecturer Dr Sinéad Murphy protest what they see as the University “valoris[ing] safety above education, and bare life in preference to the good life.”
The post by Drs Murphy and Lewis, the latter of whom was promoted to Head of Philosophy in 2019, was in response to Newcastle Uni’s requirement for all staff to wear face masks while teaching, as announced by the Executive Board on 22nd July.
While the purpose of face coverings, per government guidance, is to protect others against the spread of infection by covering the nose and mouth of the wearer, Lewis and Murphy believe this to disrupt one’s freedom of choice over the situation, stating:
“[The] Humanities faculty in particular ought to have considered – or, at the very least, it should now begin to consider – the ethical, political and psychological effects of the totalitarian imposition of face coverings and social distancing, which overrides our capacity to arrive at our own conclusions and to decide upon our own measures according to our own understanding of the situation.”
Lewis and Murphy continue by considering face coverings in a historical context, rather than in that of the present global pandemic. They hold that they were “the very first and most effective [gesture] of dehumanisation”, and that this is applicable to the present-day classroom: “there can be no disputing the fundamental importance of effective projection of the voice and its scaffolding by non-verbal cues such as facial expressions […] it is the nuances of often complex ideas that should be taught and discussed, such a muffling of speech is, or ought to be, utterly impractical and intellectually improper.”
It is recognised that staff and students could feel safer if teaching staff were wearing masks, however, they are quick to reiterate that this should not mean that the University “renders its duty to educate secondary to its pursuit of the ‘safety’ of its staff and students”.
“Are there risks involved in not wearing a mask in the lecture hall and the seminar room, and in not adhering to strict social distancing rules? Yes, there are. But it is a basic, though currently suppressed, fact of human life that none of us is ever really safe“.
Experts are quoted in order to support their arguments, with one a proponent of herd immunity and another believing the risk of COVID-19 to young people to be “staggeringly low”.
They conclude by accusing Newcastle of placing the face-covering measure in place in an attempt to appear better than other universities rather than being concerned with the safety of their students. They assert: “the University has been, not just submissive in the face of Government guidelines, but over-zealous in its attempt to outdo the supposed morality of other institutions by insisting on going beyond what is officially advised.”
“At the very least, we suggest that the University might allow those of its staff who have drawn some or all of these conclusions a free choice in this matter”.
A Newcastle University spokesperson said: “Lecturers are being asked to wear face coverings as part of our Covid secure environment to protect those teaching and those being taught.
“It is one of a series of measures that we advise along with physical distancing, daily checking for Covid symptoms and cleaning hands properly to prevent infection.
“The University has maintained the 2 metres physical distancing in all teaching settings and as an additional precaution, the face covering is mandatory for students (normal exceptions apply) and lecturers are able to choose between a face covering or a face visor as an alternative measure to further limit the risk and aid communications.“
Dr Lewis and Dr Murphy have also been contacted for comment.
Photos of Dr Lewis and Dr Murphy courtesy of the Newcastle University website.