Professors call on VCU to enforce vaccine mandate

Students, some masked and unmasked, walk through Monroe Park Campus. Masks are required in all indoor spaces and in outdoor situations where six feet of distance cannot be maintained. Photo by Megan Lee

Emma Carlson, Contributing Writer

The university announced disciplinary measures leading to possible withdrawal for students who do not comply with VCU’s vaccine mandate, on Friday. 

The university announced a vaccine requirement for students on June 7 and again for faculty and staff on Aug. 9, stating that students who do not comply with the mandate would receive a hold on their account. On Aug. 31, the American Association of University Professors chapter at VCU wrote to university president Michael Rao requesting more decisive action be taken.

“It is reasonable to expect that any student not following this directive would not be allowed to physically be on campus and potentially endanger the health and lives of others,” the AAUP letter stated.

Penned by chemistry professor Everett Carpenter, president of the VCU chapter, the letter cited the delta variant causing a surge in COVID-19 cases as well as hospitalizations and deaths among the unvaccinated.

The university released an announcement on Friday with updated disciplinary action for vaccine noncompliance. Students and employees who have not been vaccinated or have not reported an exemption will have to undergo weekly surveillance testing, according to VCU spokesperson Michael Porter. Students who don’t show up for surveillance testing will face disciplinary action.

“Students who do not report for testing will face disciplinary action up to and including administrative withdrawal from classes for the fall semester,” the announcement stated. “Students will receive a warning if they miss one test; if they miss two they will be administratively withdrawn.”

Students walk past Shafer Court Dining Center on Monroe Park Campus. Photo by Megan Lee

The delta variant continues to dominate COVID-19 cases in Virginia. From the week of Aug. 25 and onward, the seven-day moving average of new cases per day in Virginia was around 3,000, and deaths per day in Virginia averaged at around 16, but is decreasing, according to the Virginia Department of Health

“We sent the letter because there was quite a bit of anxiety among faculty about how the vaccine mandate was being enforced, and the lack of clarity we had,” Carpenter said in an interview.

Students who receive a hold on their account based on the lack of COVID-19 vaccine documentation are not allowed to change their fall course schedule. In addition, they will not be able to sign up for spring classes. However, they can still access their transcripts and grades and apply for a diploma, according to VCU’s records and registration website.

“This hold does nothing to address the clear and present danger these unvaccinated students pose to the rest of the VCU community who dutifully received their vaccinations,” the AAUP letter stated.

The AAUP at VCU requested a meeting with Rao and related administrators to discuss solutions to the current situation of noncompliance. The letter cited the University of Virginia as having a more severe consequence of disallowing students on campus who did not comply with COVID-19 vaccination requirements, according to UVA’s Policy Directory webpage

As of Tuesday, there are 692 students who have not complied with the mandate, with 262 being fully online students, according to Porter.

Carpenter felt that VCU’s reluctance to announce withdrawing students stemmed from a desire to support student success at the university. Administrative withdrawal could potentially cause students to not return to VCU, Carpenter said.

Sophomore biology major Esha Mittal felt the vaccine mandate was a “matter of public health” and agreed with a stricter policy, given the Pfizer vaccine’s full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

“I feel like some people just have a problem with people telling them what to do,” Mittal said.

Vaccinated in late March before VCU announced the mandate, Mittal felt the withdrawal punishment coming from not adhering to required surveillance testing was “fair.”

“It’s a tricky area. You don’t want to force somebody to do something they don’t want to do,” Mittal said, “But it’s reasonable to ask if you’re not going to get the vaccine.”

Carpenter also felt the updated disciplinary action for noncompliance will be effective.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction now,” Carpenter said. “I just hope everyone complies and we don’t have to withdraw anybody.”

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