UMass, Hampshire College to require student vaccinations

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst campus GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Monday, May 03, 2021

AMHERST — All students at the campuses of the Five Colleges this fall will be required to have full COVID-19 vaccinations.

Amherst College joined its four peers late last week in mandating that students be fully vaccinated.

“In keeping with our determination to provide a robust teaching and learning environment for students, faculty and staff, while implementing prudent safety measures, we have decided that all students must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus for the fall 2021 semester,” Amherst College President Biddy Martin wrote a letter to students, faculty and staff explaining the necessity of vaccinations.

As at the University of Massachusetts and Smith, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire colleges, exemptions can be sought for medical or religious reasons.

Martin’s message also came with a strong recommendation that faculty and staff obtain vaccinations. Those are not being required at any of the Five Colleges for the fall semester.

The immersive living and learning model at the Amherst campus depends on preventing the spread of infection, Martin noted. 

“With each passing day, it becomes clearer that vaccines are extremely effective at preventing cases of COVID-19, especially the most severe cases involving hospitalization and death,” Martin wrote.

The college is already well on its way to meeting the vaccination goals. As of April 23, more than 55% of on-campus students and more than 64% of faculty and staff authorized to work on campus were either fully vaccinated or had begun the process.

UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, in a letter sent to the campus community April 22, announced that the university is preparing for a return to normal campus operations on Sept. 1 that will include face-to-face instruction, full residence halls and traditional student events and activities.

“We will require all undergraduate and graduate students who wish to live or learn or conduct research on campus, or access campus resources, to be fully vaccinated prior to the beginning of the fall semester, on the basis of expected additional state, federal and legal guidance and vaccine availability, and subject to religious and disability accommodations pursuant to state and federal law,” Subbaswamy wrote.

Similarly, Hampshire College is requiring vaccinations of all students, though requests for exceptions for medical or religious reasons will be evaluated. President Ed Wingenbach said the mandate will create a campus environment similar to before the pandemic.

“We demonstrated a remarkable dedication to the health of everyone in our community this year by maintaining safe practices, even as it has grown tiring to do so, and I know we will continue to be guided by shared commitments to scientific evidence and care for one another,” Wingenbach said.

The decisions by UMass and Hampshire College came a day after Smith College became the first of the Five Colleges to announce such a mandate. Smith began providing students Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses last Saturday and Sunday; Hampshire had a vaccination clinic for students and staff Sunday.

Meanwhile, Mount Holyoke College announced last Friday that on-campus students will be required to receive COVID-19 vaccines before the fall semester.

“This will greatly reduce the risk of infection for all,” a letter to the college community states. “We expect there will be very limited exceptions and will be working to set up structures to ensure compliance and to vaccinate those students who are unable to be vaccinated before returning to campus.”

Subbaswamy’s announcement at UMass was based on a report from the Fall Planning Group that developed a framework for the campus operational plan for the fall semester. That group included representatives from the Student Government Association, the Graduate Student Senate and the Faculty Senate.

Its report, covering aspects of public health, teaching and learning and student affairs and campus life, is online at umass.edu/coronavirus/fall-2021-operational-plan.

Faculty and staff who have been working remotely will be expected to transition back to on-campus work and will be strongly encouraged, though not required, to get vaccinated prior to the beginning of the fall semester.

In addition to the face-to-face classes and laboratories, all student support services, such as the Learning Resource Center, Registrar’s Office, International Programs Office and cultural centers, will be available in person.

At UMass, resumption of campus operations is being aided by funding from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, part of the federal government’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The university has lost $200 million in revenue since the pandemic began in March 2020 and faces a projected $9 million deficit for fiscal year 2021.

The American Rescue Plan is allowing for the second consecutive year of an in-state tuition freeze, relaxation of the current hiring freeze for faculty and staff vacancies, and resumption of pre-pandemic levels of research activity through investments in faculty start-ups.