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Rutgers University, Cornell University and Brown University have announced new guidelines for their students as they return to in-person instruction next academic year: get vaccinated or don’t come back. Vaccine requirements are a focal point of global discussion. It’s no surprise that this discussion has reached college communities.
On March 1, President Michael Schill announced in a letter to the campus community that the University of Oregon will return to in-person instruction starting fall 2021. Though he warned this return will not reflect our old image of normalcy, he did promise measures will be taken to assure some sense of progress. Those changes would include rearranging classroom and office spaces to allow social distancing, more cleaning and preventing the spread of possible contaminants. “We have also created a culture of supporting each other by wearing masks, washing hands, keeping our distance, and taking advantage of our free COVID-19 testing,” Schill wrote.
These measures show a commitment from the university to prioritize students’ health and safety before, during and after the transition back to in-person instruction. With common COVID-19 vaccine efficacy rates around 95%, it is clear that vaccination is one of, if not the most, effective means of combating the coronavirus — pushing the hardest to send us back in time to “normalcy.” But with these astonishing statistics, along with the number of already promised safety procedures by the university, we have yet to hear any information regarding a vaccine requirement, or lack thereof, or anything in between, from UO.
The ASUO Executive believes that this decision process should incorporate input from students, the university’s largest financiers. These decisions will impact us the greatest while we all plan what a return to on-campus learning will look like. Regardless of the level of student participation in this decision, we strongly urge the university to publicly comment on the status of this discussion and decision. Postponing this will only add to the stresses of the unknown that students across the nation have become too familiar with.
Turning this discussion public will not only allow for the student population to comment and fully understand a decision which may direct the consequences of in-person instruction, but it will also ensure no plans or promises are broken or deviated from by the university. When the coronavirus warped student life and health, the university verbally committed to random off-campus student COVID-19 testing. The ASUO Executive has been extremely disappointed in the university’s lack of follow through regarding this promise. Though the university has done an incredible job making testing available for the student population, stronger initiatives, like the one previously mentioned and promised by the university, have fallen through and not come to fruition. Creating a public discussion sooner than later — and an eventual decision — regarding vaccine requirements for the upcoming fall term will ensure this does not happen again, and that student health will be prioritized.
A lot has developed in the world of collegiate vaccination since Schill’s March 1 announcement, including how soon Oregon residents will become eligible for a vaccine. Requesting student voices in this decision — and that the decision is made with apt expediency — is simply requesting that Schill keep the promises he made on March 1: implementing protective strategies for in-person learning and utilizing our culture of support in order for the safe in-person experiences that the university prides itself on to return.