Vaccine mandate update: Winter semester deadline, surging cases, faculty concerns


Noora Neiroukh

Doses of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine that the university made available last spring. Heading into the winter semester there is uncertainty about the vaccine mandate.

Last weekend via social media, the university announced a deadline of Dec. 13 for uploading vaccine information ahead of the winter semester. At this point it is unclear to students and faculty what the consequences will be of not complying with that deadline.

“I have not heard anything about disenrollment,” President of the OU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (OU AAUP) and Associate Professor of History Karen Miller said. “Not for students in this semester, nor have I heard a policy stated for disenrollment next semester. It was implied that students who were not compliant in the fall would not be allowed to take their classes in the winter until they had proven vaccination status. But that was implied. I have not seen that written anywhere.”

As of writing, the COVID-19 dashboard indicates that 9% of students with at least one on-campus course (1,267) have received an approved exemption (religious or medical) and 5% of those students (687) have not complied with uploading proof of at least dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

COVID-19 is currently surging in Michigan, with a 23% increase in new cases reported over the last two weeks. In the last seven days, Oakland County has reported 926 new cases and Macomb County has reported 747

The seven day average for new cases in the state is 7,768. These numbers, combined with the emergence of the omicron variant, have heightened safety concerns among the campus community.

“Given the numbers in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne County … It makes me very nervous,” Miller said. “I’m not sure that ‘protecting the rights,’ to use Dean Wadsworth’s terms, of non-compliant students should be held in superior value to the potential threat to other students.”

There were two previous deadlines for compliance with the mandate of Sept. 10 for one dose and Oct. 8 for a second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. In an interview in September, Dean of Students Mike Wadsworth indicated that the mandate would be enforced on a case-by-case basis via the student code of conduct. As of writing, it is unclear whether non-compliant students faced any consequences during the fall semester for failing to upload their vaccination documents.

Heading into the winter semester, OU AAUP members would like to see continued improvements to vaccine mandate enforcement.

“In general, I think most of our faculty would like to see a quicker and more diligent enforcement of the mandate,” Miller said. “ … I have heard rumors, I don’t know if they’re correct, about extraordinary laxity in terms of granting the weekly tests. As long as we have the weekly tests, and as long as people are then being yanked out of class, if they don’t take the test, I can live with that … But if that’s not enforced rigorously, then we’ve got a problem.”

While faculty play a significant role in enforcing campus COVID-19 procedures like the mask mandate, they are not allowed to know which students are and aren’t vaccinated in their classes.

The agreement between the university and OU AAUP requires the university to notify any faculty member who is currently teaching an in-person class of 25 or more students with a 15% or greater unvaccinated student population. Professors teaching courses with less than 25 students are not notified if there’s a significant percentage of unvaccinated students in their classes.

“Faculty in all of the classrooms where there are 25 or more registered students … if 15% of the students aren’t vaccinated, then faculty get notified,” Miller said. “Now, that doesn’t [include] small laboratory classes. We have a number of faculty who teach where the circumstances are the students are all pretty much shoulder to shoulder, but the class size is lower than 25. So they don’t even fall under the agreement. So those faculty are reasonably concerned.”

The Post has an interview scheduled with Wadsworth this Wednesday afternoon and will be following up with more details on the mandate.