After months of encouraging students and faculty to self-report their vaccination status, University President Mark Schlissel announced on July 30 that COVID-19 vaccines are required for all students and staff among all three campuses. According to the new policy, all members of the campus community, regardless of if they are working remotely, must be vaccinated by the start of the fall term on August 30.
With this deadline being less than a month away, the University is offering a temporary deferral to individuals who are unable to receive both doses of their vaccination before August 30. The campus Maize and Blueprint frequently asked questions says that “Faculty, staff, or students, including international students, who meet this criteria may request a deferment and, if the request is approved, the individual will be required to arrive to campus with documentation of a negative COVID-19 test within the prior three (3) days, begin the COVID-19 vaccination process immediately, participate in weekly COVID-19 testing until they are fully vaccinated, and follow the U-M Face Covering Policy.”
Nearly half of the students on campus this fall will experience an in-person college course for the first time. Rising LSA sophomore Sydney Sheinker expressed joy that she will finally be able to have a real college experience with classes in person. Sheinker also explained why she chose to get vaccinated prior to this mandate.
“My initial reaction when I read the email that Michigan announced the mandatory vaccine was very excited and hopeful,” Sheinker said. “I still had doubts about the possibility of in-person classes prior to this announcement, and now it feels as if a sense of normalcy is around the corner. Prior to this mandate I did choose to get vaccinated because I wanted to not risk bringing anything home back to my family when leaving school for summer. I also want to be a part of the prevention of the spread of COVID and I felt getting the vaccine was a great way to do this. I think it is a great thing that the vaccine is mandatory on campus.”
While many are rejoicing at this news, some are not convinced that the University will thoughtfully follow through with their plan. Rising LSA sophomore Maya Levy said that while she hoped all summer that a vaccine mandate was imminent, she was not so sure the University would take this step. Now that the University has made this decision, Levy is not convinced that it will be properly executed.
“When I received the email, I was shocked but grateful that our administration had finally made a decision truly informed by public health. However, reading deeper into the email, I resumed my feelings of disappointment at the lack of clarity for how the University plans to follow up on the mandate,” Levy said. “There were no details about what will happen with students who refuse to get vaccinated or how they will keep unvaccinated students off of campus. Like almost all of the University’s COVID-19 decisions, there seems to be no plan for implementation of the mandate, so I remain concerned and skeptical that our campus will return to a truly safe environment.”
Faculty Senate Chair Allen Liu said he sent a Google Form to collect faculty feedback on a vaccine mandate to Faculty Senate, clinical faculty and lecturers earlier last month, prior to Schlissel’s announcement. An overwhelming majority voted in favor of a mandate.
“I was not completely surprised by the results,” Liu said. “From talking casually to colleagues, I get the sense that many support a vaccination mandate at U-M. SACUA and Senate Assembly have voted in April and endorsed a resolution supporting vaccination mandate at U-M. It is great to see the broader faculty body also support a vaccination mandate at U-M. I believe that vaccination status of students and faculty should be shared with the University, regardless of whether a mandate is in place or not.”
Following nearly three semesters of virtual learning, parents are just as eager as students for their children to have a normal college experience. Academically, socially and emotionally, all students and parents were influenced by the pandemic.
Jeannette Ward, a parent of a rising sophomore, expressed her relief that all members of the campus community will be vaccinated. Ward also said that students throughout their years of public school are required to get many vaccines, and the COVID-19 vaccine should not be treated any differently.
“As a parent, I was nervous about how well the University (despite its efforts) would be able to handle a COVID outbreak in a population of roughly 45,000 students, staff and administrators,” Ward said. “I saw that not all students followed the University’s COVID guidelines last year, and I believe that is what partially contributed to the sudden removal from campus back in November. The inadherance to the University’s guidelines caused disruption to the school year. I was worried that would happen again this year. As quickly as the Delta (variant) is spreading, the weekly testing would only be a reactive response rather than a proactive response.”
Ward said she was sad her daughter didn’t get a normal college environment, but that the University did its best to handle the situation.
“I do truly believe the University did its best to handle this terrible situation none of us have experienced before,” Ward said. “There isn’t a university rulebook on how to handle a pandemic, so I do trust the administrators to make the best decisions based on information they’re given at the time.”
After spending her first year on campus masked and isolated, Levy emphasized her hopes for a normal and safer campus experience this year.
“I’m hoping every aspect of campus life is safer after the pandemic,” Levy said. “I hope freshmen get an actual dorm living experience, rather than one with constant announcements of COVID infection and masking up just to go to the bathroom. I hope I can sit in a classroom without worrying about the health and actions of people around me. Every moment I spent on campus last year was tainted by COVID-related anxiety; there wasn’t any space where I felt safe from the pandemic. I hope that I can soon walk around our beautiful campus without that fear and mistrust. I want to meet my classmates, run into friends on the street, join some student groups, and actually physically interact with the people I share a community with.”
Prior to the vaccine mandate, Liu also shared his belief that instructors should be able to opt-out of in-person instruction. Although many crave to return to large lecture halls packed with students, Liu highlighted the importance of acknowledging the pandemic is still occurring, and that we must be mindful of different people’s comfort levels.
“Many faculty are eager to get back to in-person teaching, including myself,” Liu said. “As the pandemic is ongoing and there are different health and personal considerations that differ among faculty, it is helpful to provide instructors with the option of opting out (of) in-person instruction, if a vaccination mandate is not in place.”
Looking ahead as the semester approaches more quickly, students and families are looking for the University to act fast on this policy.
“I’m glad that the University issued a vaccine mandate, but with each passing day things are getting a little bit worse,” Levy said. “What we need right now is strong action and follow-up, not just words and policy on paper. Where the University failed last year was in implementation and follow-through, prioritizing their salaries and profit over the health of the student body. If we want to return to a campus that feels safe, we need to abandon selfishness and collectively take the actions that will get us closer to the end of the pandemic. If we continue to act like everything is fine, we are in for several more years of outbreaks, variants, and shut downs.”
Daily Staff Reporter Kaitlyn Luckoff can be reached at email@example.com.