The Faculty Senate on Monday discussed a resolution to allow faculty to return to campus if they provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
The discussion, initiated by a resolution brought by Faculty Senator and Professor of Humanities Al Clark, turned into a debate about the relative benefits and ethical concerns of mandatory vaccination.
Current University protocols require faculty to go through a COVID-19 check process and gain approval from administration before entering campus buildings.
Clark’s resolution stated that non-vaccinated faculty should continue to be permitted to visit campus only with administrative approval, and non-vaccinated faculty should continue to teach virtually.
After more than a year of functioning nearly exclusively virtually, University officials are planning for a return to largely in-person campus life in fall 2021, with many of the details and safety protocols still in the works.
To date more than 380 colleges across the nation have announced their plans to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all students and employees returning in fall, including the Cal State and University of California systems and numerous private universities in Los Angeles County.
“It seemed to me that it was appropriate for faculty to take a stand on what they felt was needed in terms of vaccinations,” Clark said.
Clark’s resolution addressed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s May 13 announcement regarding new COVID-19 guidelines, which state that those who are fully vaccinated are safe to return without the need for masks or social distancing.
The resolution also called for officials to develop a list of vaccinated employees.
Clark had also conducted a survey of full time faculty via the space and facilities committee, which found that 80% who responded were in favor of mandatory vaccination. He shared those survey results by email on May 1.
Matthew Witt, professor of public administration and acting Senate president, read an anonymous letter that said that the space committee survey, which was sent only to full-time faculty, was not representative.
Jane Beal, professor of English literature, asked during the Monday Senate meeting to amend the part of the resolution that called for keeping a list of employees who were or were not vaccinated, as such a list would open the door to liability.
“Those who were not vaccinated would have to voluntarily agree to not come to campus if the vaccine is made mandatory,” Beal said. “I hope we don’t go there.”
Elaine Padilla, associate professor of philosophy, religion and Latinx/Latin American studies, said there are philosophical and religious reasons for those who choose not to take the vaccine. She said that science is not the ultimate rubric in universal decision making processes and various perspectives should be respected.
Professor of Management Kathy Duncan, also a senator, said that vaccinated individuals would be at minimal risk of contracting the disease on campus, even without a vaccine mandate.
According to the CDC, the Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective, the Moderna vaccine is 94.1% effective, and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is 66.3% effective.
“Every time someone spreads this disease there is a chance for it to mutate,” said Christine Broussard, professor of biology and a faculty senator. “A choice of not getting vaccinated is not a personal choice.”
Emily Cilli-Turner, assistant professor of mathematics, agreed, saying that the possibility of mutation affects both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
“We do not live in a bubble,” said Norman Walton, adjunct professor of business administration and a member of the faculty compensation committee. “We may only end up having 80% of the campus population vaccinated, but that isn’t where we all live, and thus do not have anything resembling herd immunity. We have a responsibility to students, staff and faculty to maximize safety.”
Kenneth Marcus, professor of history, agreed that everyone should be vaccinated, otherwise there would be a risk to the communities the school serves. For those not wanting to be vaccinated, the school has the facilities for them to continue teaching virtually. It would be problematic for those who are unvaccinated to step on campus and endanger those on campus who are vaccinated, Marcus said.
Some faculty argued that a vaccination decision was still premature, as the vaccines still have only emergency Food and Drug Administration approval at this point. Others, however, said it was important that a decision be made before June, when most faculty go on hiatus, so faculty can plan classes accordingly.
“Not only is this subject premature, it’s still evolving,” Duncan said. “There’s more guidelines coming, we still have another Senate meeting, and there’s a lot of time before the fall.”
“Before summer comes, no matter what L.A. County or CDC guidelines say, we must make a decision,” Clark said.
The Senate tabled the resolution without a vote at Monday’s meeting, but senators will revisit the issue again at the June 7 meeting, which is the last Senate meeting of the academic year.
Taylor Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.