Dear Commons Community,
Large public university systems are beginning to join the list of colleges that will require students and/or employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 this fall.
Rutgers University, a public institution, was the first in the nation to announce a vaccine mandate, on March 25. Until last Thursday, just two of its public peers had followed suit. But now a wave of public colleges, led by the University of California and California State University said they, too, would require vaccines. As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The California systems are hedging their bets by waiting until vaccines are formally approved by the Food and Drug Administration to make their mandates official, avoiding questions about the legality of requiring vaccines that remain under emergency-use authorization, or EUA. But on Friday the University System of Maryland and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor announced requirements without such contingencies. The Maryland system will require all on-campus faculty, staff, and students to be vaccinated, and Michigan said it would require the vaccine for residential students.
Those announcements may mark a watershed moment for public colleges that have hesitated to take similar action. (The California State system, in particular, has a penchant for trailblazing, having been one of the first to declare last May that its fall semester would be fully online.)
Whether to require vaccination is a thorny question for any college leader to navigate, but it’s especially so for those at the helm of public institutions, which are bound by state policy — and state funding. Six states — Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Texas — have enacted legislation that prohibits government agencies, including public colleges, from requiring people to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. (The governors of those six states are Republicans.)
New Jersey has not announced such a ban, but the prospect of legal action has cropped up at Rutgers University, which on Thursday fielded a letter from an anti-vaccine advocacy group asking it to withdraw its requirement. Rutgers’s mandate, lawyers writing on behalf of the Informed Consent Action Network asserted, “violates federal law, international laws, civil and individual rights, and public policy.” (Rutgers’s position, a university spokeswoman wrote in an email to The Chronicle, “is consistent with the legal authority supporting this policy.”) ICAN sent a similar letter to Princeton University, a private institution.
To require the Covid-19 vaccine or not will be a controversial issue at many colleges and universities in the coming months.