Hampshire, UMass not requiring employees to get shots, unlike Smith, Amherst and Mt. Holyoke

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst campus GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 7/28/2021 8:41:40 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Two of the Five Colleges, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts, do not plan to mandate that faculty and staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the coming semester.

Amherst, Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges, meanwhile, will require that all of their employees be fully vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall.

UMass and Hampshire College are recommending that all of their employees get vaccinated, but do not plan to make it a requirement or ask for proof of vaccination. All five colleges are requiring that students be fully vaccinated by the fall semester.

Hampshire College officials said their vaccination rates are already high, so they don’t feel that they need to mandate the vaccine for employees.

The college recently conducted a survey to gauge the vaccination rate of faculty and staff and found that more than 90% of people indicated that they are either fully vaccinated or “well on their way to being fully vaccinated,” according to Jennifer Chrisler, Hampshire College spokeswoman.

Hampshire’s decision is not set in stone, however.

“We will continue to evaluate public health guidelines,” Chrisler said. “We have, since the beginning of the pandemic, been very focused on science and data.”

UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said university officials believe that most of the university’s staff will be vaccinated voluntarily by the fall semester “as reflected in Massachusetts’ high vaccination rate.”

UMass also faces a barrier to requiring vaccination for employees, which would qualify as a term of employment and would need to be adopted in concert with UMass’ unions.

“Given the fast-evolving government health guidance about the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant, we are in active conversation with unions about the importance of vaccinations and keeping the campus safe,” Blaguszewski said.

The employee vaccination deadlines vary for the three colleges that will require it. Smith’s and Amherst’s deadline is Aug. 1, while Mount Holyoke’s is Aug. 13. All three schools also will mandate that faculty, staff and students provide records of their vaccination status, according to the colleges.

Sanctions vary

Smith, Amherst and Mount Holyoke colleges all plan to evaluate religious and medical exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

Employees and students who fail to meet the requirement could face penalization, expulsion or termination from their college.

At Amherst, an employee who doesn’t comply with the vaccination requirements will be placed on a 90-day unpaid leave of absence. If the staff member does not return to their job fully vaccinated by the end of their leave, “it will be considered job abandonment and we’ll move to terminate the staff member,” according Amherst’s website.

Smith College’s website specifies that “students, faculty, and staff who do not adhere to applicable safety precautions may be subject to disciplinary action under relevant processes.” A spokesperson for the college declined to elaborate on what specific disciplinary actions may be taken.

Hampshire College students who don’t comply with the vaccination requirements and don’t have a medical or religious exemption will not be able to come to campus to attend classes, live in residence halls or use campus resources, until COVID-19 vaccinations are no longer required, according to Chrisler.

At UMass, students who don’t meet the requirement will “face the prospect of being withdrawn from the university,” Blaguszewski said.

A spokesperson from Mount Holyoke declined to comment Wednesday on what penalties are in place for students and staff who do not meet the vaccination requirement.

Mount Holyoke stressed that its decision to mandate the vaccine for faculty was based on public health guidelines.

“This decision also derives from the unambiguous advice of national, state and local public health and medical experts that achieving as near to universal vaccination as possible is essential if we are to keep our community safe,” the college states on its website.

“Our hope is that these vaccination requirements for all students and employees will provide additional protection for everyone in our community,” Smith College announced to the campus community in May.

Community college

Holyoke Community College, however, will not require students or faculty to be vaccinated because of concerns over inequitable barriers to getting the vaccine.

The college is still requiring all students and faculty to wear masks inside, a policy that “is not likely to change, given present conditions,” according to Chris Yurko, an HCC spokesperson.

In April, the presidents of all 15 community colleges in Massachusetts announced in a joint statement that they would not require vaccines for students or employees although they “strongly encouraged” members of their campus communities to get vaccinated.

“It is essential that we meet the needs of all of our students, who are often from the communities hit hardest by this pandemic and facing disproportionate access to the COVID-19 vaccine,” the colleges wrote.

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