During the summer of 2021, many universities across the United States enforced COVID-19 vaccination mandates. Within the state of Connecticut, 37 out of 44 college campuses took part in this mandate, including Fairfield University’s neighboring school, Sacred Heart University.
Fairfield University is one of seven Connecticut universities that has yet to enforce a schoolwide COVID-19 immunization and is a part of an even smaller minority of Jesuit schools that has not.
Though Fairfield University openly shares that the campus has a 93.1 percent vaccination status, which is a statistic which includes the entire campus community (students, staff, faculty, etc.), many professors share their concern for the lack of a vaccine requirement.
David Crawford Ph.D., President of Fairfield’s Faculty Welfare Committee/Association American Association of University Professors, and sociology/anthropology professor states how our lack of a vaccination mandate puts us in a small minority of Jesuit schools that doesn’t have a mandate and thus, “makes us appear out of touch with the Jesuit values we so enthusiastically pronounce.”
With 28 Jesuit schools across the country, Fairfield University remains one of four that does not require a COVID-19 student vaccination.
“For scholars we want to hire to come to Fairfield, we have to explain why we have decided to place ourselves in the small minority of schools who do not require this particular vaccine– but plenty of others. We have no explanation for that, and so the President’s unilateral decision can impact far more than the spread of the virus,” Crawford says.
He adds, “It also impacts our ability to recruit the most talented young professors.”
An additional issue Crawford points out is that “The refusal to require a vaccine– even with exemptions for health or religious reasons– is interpreted by many as a political/ideological decision as opposed to a scientific [or] public health one. That casts a shadow of doubt over all other administrative decisions.”
Crawford further explains his individual and fellow colleagues’ shared beliefs.
“Our administration-appointed campus Public Health Advisory Team voted repeatedly to have a requirement, our Academic Council voted to have one and the General Faculty voted to have one,” he said. “Especially since there are exemptions for medical or religious reasons, we cannot understand the President’s intransigence. We require many other vaccines to come on campus. Why not this one?”
Anita Fernandez Ph.D., associate professor of biology and a member of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Welfare Committee added that the faculty support for the mandate came up in the general faculty vote in July, in two separate Academic Council votes, and in two cases where the Public Health Advisory Team made that specific recommendation.
She adds, “The President’s policy choice is not in agreement with what most Fairfield faculty want.”
Jennifer Adair Ph.D., associate professor in the history department and also a member of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Welfare Committee, added that “There has been clear and overwhelming faculty support in favor of a vaccine mandate over the summer and into this fall.”
Crawford adds that the virus risk is not evenly distributed across all campus spaces or across all people in those spaces, “Some faculty have close to 100 percent vaccination in their classrooms right now, but others only have 65 percent.”
“What is somebody supposed to do when a third of their class is unvaccinated and they are teaching in a small room with windows that don’t open? Some of my colleagues have called that simply ‘unacceptable.’ I worry that the third of the class that is unvaccinated will get sick and the virus will spread from there.”
William Abbot Ph.D., associate professor in the history department and member of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Welfare Committee added, “The need for a vaccine mandate has increased this semester, owing partly to the failure of many students to use masks properly in open indoor spaces such as hallways and bathrooms. The danger from such non-compliance will only increase with the onset of cold weather.”
In an email sent out by the Office of the Dean of Students on Oct. 8, William Johnson Ph.D. stated, “Even after being here for over a month though, I am struck by the fact that I (and many of my colleagues) still have to address students about wearing a mask indoors despite all of the very visible signage across campus.”
He continued, “… at this point in the semester, there is no excuse for anyone to be walking into or inside of a building without a mask in their possession. And more importantly, it is unacceptable to ignore the request of a University employee to put a mask on or to wear it properly. For those of you engaging in this behavior, please do better.”
Senior Olivia Burke says, “I’d say most people I see in the BCC [Barone Campus Center] are not wearing masks, whether they’re walking around or sitting in one of the seating areas.”
She adds, “I think everyone should wear masks indoors when outside of their room/housing especially in the BCC since it’s an enclosed area where most students visit often, if not daily.”
Crawford goes on to explain how even though faculty can’t set campus-wide policies, they are responsible for figuring out the risk in their own particular classrooms and coming up with policies to mitigate it.
Furthermore, Fairfield University students are not permitted an online learning experience like the opportunities offered during the 2020-2021 school year.
“We [professors] are expected to hold class in person if that is how the course is listed in the catalog,” Crawford explains. “I know the professors all want to see our students again; we are just worried about how to do that safely.”
Furthermore, if a student contracts COVID-19, professors are barred from distributing Zoom links to the classes their students may miss, but instead must contact each professor individually.
Crawford shares, “Professors have a range of views, but many are worried about classroom issues, including absences. As far as I know, absences are going to be handled as they always have been. There is no special policy for Covid absences.”