American University, otherwise known as my employer, announced earlier today that they are requiring boosters of COVID-19 vaccines for all faculty, staff and students by February 10. The CDC recommends boosters for people who got the J&J shot at least two months ago or Pfizer/Moderna six months ago.
This follows the university’s aggressive strategy in preventing COVID outbreaks on campus. Prior to reopening in the Fall, everyone had to be vaccinated with students providing proof and faculty giving an attestation and details on their vaccination status. In light of the federal government’s new mandate, AU requires proof from all faculty.
Compliance rates have been extremely high with only a few excused for health or religious reasons. Faculty who have an approved health accommodation teach online. Virtually all faculty and staff meetings are still held online.
Finally, AU requires masks in all indoor spaces. My impression is that students have been terrific about complying with this understandable but nonetheless annoying requirement. Another key component of the university’s strategy has been easy access to testing. It’s a spit PCR test and AU uses an app that allows you to check in for a test and receive news about the results very easily.
AU hasn’t been COVID free but it has kept infections down among a population that normally spreads infections. Prior to COVID, my classes could sound like TB wards from all the coughing during flu season. Exactly one person from AU has been hospitalized. Infections rose as expected/feared when students went home and came back after Thanksgiving but by less than one might expect.
I may disagree with my employer on some issues but I fully support this approach that kept AU safe and open.
The Chronicle of Higher Education covered the decision by American University’s Faculty Senate to pass a resolution against “the use of ‘trigger warnings’ to shield students from instructional materials they might find disturbing.” Here is the text of the Faculty Senate resolution:
For hundreds of years, the pursuit of knowledge has been at the center of university life. Unfettered discourse, no matter how controversial, inconvenient, or uncomfortable, is a condition necessary to that pursuit. American University stands in this tradition, as stated in section 4 of the Faculty Manual. (http://www.american.edu/provost/academicaffairs/faculty-manualtoc.cfm)
Freedom of speech–protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution– undergirds the cherished principle of academic freedom. As limits, either subtle or explicit, are increasingly placed on intellectual freedom in venues of public discourse, the academy is committed to the full expression of ideas.
American University is committed to protecting and championing the right to freely communicate ideas—without censorship—and to study material as it is written, produced, or stated, even material that some members of our community may find disturbing or that provokes uncomfortable feelings. This freedom is an integral part of the learning experience and an obligation from which we cannot shrink.
As laws and individual sensitivities may seek to restrict, label, warn, or exclude specific content, the academy must stand firm as a place that is open to diverse ideas and free expression. These are standards and principles that American University will not compromise.
Faculty may advise students before exposing them to controversial readings and other materials that are part of their curricula. However, the Faculty Senate does not endorse offering “trigger warnings” or otherwise labeling controversial material in such a way that students construe it as an option to “opt out” of engaging with texts or concepts, or otherwise not participating in intellectual inquiries.
Faculty should direct students who experience personal difficulties from exposure to controversial issues to resources available at American University’s support-services offices.
In issuing this statement, the Faculty Senate affirms that shielding students from controversial material will deter them from becoming critical thinkers and responsible citizens. Helping them learn to process and evaluate such material fulfills one of the most important responsibilities of higher education.
(Note: American University is my employer but that, of course, does not mean that it endorses any positions taken on this blog. Nor the reverse unless otherwise indicated.)