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Sunday, September 12, 2021 1:00 am

Editorials

'No reason ... to be a laggard'

Purdue Fort Wayne has chance to do right by approving pandemic mandate

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

As of Friday, 1,022 U.S. colleges and universities required COVID-19 vaccines for students and faculty, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Faculty at Purdue University Fort Wayne hope to add the local campus to the list, a wise move given rising infection numbers and deaths.

But troubling questions from PFW Ready, a committee appointed by Chancellor Ronald Elsenbaumer to oversee the campus' COVID-19 response, suggest it won't come without resistance from the administration.

PFW's faculty senate will consider a resolution Monday calling for all students and employees to receive the coronavirus vaccine before Jan. 10, the first day of spring semester classes. The senate's executive committee unanimously approved the measure Aug. 27.

While the faculty organization can review and recommend campus policy, it is an advisory-only panel. Any recommendation regarding a vaccine mandate would have to be approved by the administration and board of trustees. Implementation would logically fall to PFW Ready, but the 25-member panel appears ready to quash any possibility of a local requirement.

“Does the Senate endorse disenrolling students and terminating employees (including tenured faculty) who refuse to comply with a vaccine mandate and do not receive an approved exemption?” asks a Sept. 2 email from PFW Ready members.

It also raises questions about enforcement and the necessity of doing anything more than encourage vaccinations. The email states that PFW does not employ medical personnel authorized to administer the vaccine. It cites specious arguments regarding vaccine documentation from Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and the Republican Statehouse majority.

PFW Ready's email concludes with a particularly odd query: “Does the Senate anticipate an adverse reaction to a Purdue Fort Wayne vaccine mandate from the President and/or the Board of Trustees?”

In other words, are you prepared to irritate President Mitch Daniels and trustees at the main campus?

That might be PFW Ready's strongest argument to avoid the debate. The others don't hold up, legally or logistically.

• The U.S. Supreme Court declined to block Indiana University's systemwide vaccine mandate. The requirement is in effect for IU Fort Wayne students and faculty sharing PFW's own campus. Among IU faculty and staff, 83.3% are vaccinated; 74.2% of students.

• Enrollment hasn't suffered where mandates are in place. IU-Bloomington enrolled a record 45,328 students this fall, including a 20% increase in the number of incoming freshmen over last fall. According to IU's COVID-19 dashboard, 92.2% of both students and faculty are vaccinated on the main campus.

• Questions about documentation, exemptions and enforcement have already been addressed at the 1,000-plus campuses with mandates in effect. IU spokesman Chuck Carney said he's not aware of any faculty or staff who quit or were fired because of the university's mandate at any IU campuses. The strategies designed to encourage compliance can be easily replicated here.

The PFW chapter of the American Association of University Professors endorsed the senate resolution in a statement approved Friday.

“There is no reason for our campus to be a laggard on this issue,” it reads. “Our reputation is at stake, as are the lives of people who study and work here.”

In addressing objections to the vaccine mandate, the association statement notes Purdue trustees last year passed a flu vaccine requirement for all residential students on the main campus, with documentation required.

AAUP chapter president Noor Borbieva, in an interview, said she will ask her faculty representative to support the resolution Monday.

“I think vaccine mandates are our only way forward,” she said. “It seems to me that this is not going to go away anytime soon, so the only way that we're ever going to get some semblance of normalcy is if people will get vaccinated, and I don't think that will happen without some kind of mandate.”

The Fort Wayne campus stands in stark contrast to West Lafayette, where a documented 82% of the community is now vaccinated. Purdue's flagship campus used several effective strategies to promote inoculations instead of a mandate, including incentives for students and faculty and an on-campus vaccine clinic.

PFW, where little effort seems to have been placed on encouraging vaccination, has seen little success. Self-reported numbers show just 1,074, or 17%, of 6,342 students are vaccinated for COVID-19. Almost 200 students made the effort to note they are not vaccinated.

President Joe Biden's announcement Thursday of sweeping new vaccine requirements for public and private employers could make PFW's debate a moot exercise. But a mandate is needed now to protect students, staff, faculty and the community. The PFW senate should approve the resolution.

Vaccine mandates

Thousands of students and faculty at Indiana colleges and universities are subject to COVID-19 vaccine requirements this fall. Mandates are in effect at:

Butler University

DePauw University

Earlham College

Goshen College

Indiana University (all regional campuses, including IU Fort Wayne)

IUPUI

University of Indianapolis 

University of Notre Dame 

Valparaiso University

Wabash College

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