Community College of Vermont will not require students or faculty to be vaccinated

Timothy J Donovan Academic Center, Community College of Vermont. Photo by Bob LoCicero/VT Digger

The Community College of Vermont does not plan to require students or faculty returning to campus this fall to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

The decision, announced last week in an email to faculty, puts the institution at odds with other members of the Vermont State Colleges System, including Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College. Those schools will require enrolled students to be vaccinated once the federal Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to Covid-19 vaccines, according to Katherine Levasseur, a lobbyist for the state colleges. 

“As a non-residential institution, CCV is following a slightly different policy,” she said. 

In last week’s email to faculty, Dean of Academic Affairs Deborah Stewart said the school would be “encouraging all CCV community members to get vaccinated if able.”

But, she wrote, the institution has historically refrained from requiring its students to be vaccinated. 

“As a non-residential college, we do not require proof of vaccination except in certain state-mandated programs,” Stewart wrote, “and we will continue that practice.” 

Faculty members may ask if others are vaccinated, but they may not ask to see proof of vaccination “or demand to know why they are not vaccinated,” according to Stewart. Faculty members also may not require students to wear masks in class.

According to Katie Mobley, the Community College of Vermont is approaching vaccinations differently than others in the state college system because it serves different students at its 12 campuses around Vermont.

“Eighty percent of our students are part time,” she said. “We aren’t really the space they’re spending their most time in.”

Jim Blynt, a part-time instructor of history and philosophy at the school’s Winooski campus, sees it differently. He called the college’s decision a sign of “incredible sophistry” that contradicts the statewide vaccination effort.

“On the one hand, we have a state government that is doing everything it can to get people to be vaccinated,” Blynt said, “and here’s the Community College of Vermont … doing the exact opposite.”

In recent weeks, colleges around the country have been rolling out their vaccination policies for the fall semester. The University of Vermont, the state’s largest higher education institution, announced last week that all of its students would be required to be vaccinated this fall once at least one of the vaccines receives final FDA approval. 

Bennington College, Champlain College, Middlebury College and St. Michael’s College are among the Vermont institutions that have already announced vaccination requirements. 

Blynt said he was looking forward to instructing one in-person class at the Community College of Vermont this fall. But, he said, it “now looks a little scarier than it maybe should be.”

As a part-time instructor, like the rest of the college’s adjunct faculty, Blynt does not receive health insurance through his employer.

“These are people that don’t even provide me with health insurance, putting me in a situation that could be dangerous to my health,” said Blynt, who is vaccinated.

It remains to be seen whether instructors who feel uncomfortable teaching unvaccinated students will have the option to teach remotely.

Elizabeth McHale, a spokesperson for CCV United Faculty, the school’s faculty union, wrote in an email to VTDigger that her members “should have the right to make the choices that are best for themselves and their families without penalty.”

Though some classes will meet in person, she wrote, “if a class can be moved online, and the faculty members feel more comfortable teaching remotely, then they should be allowed to make that decision.”

That option will be on the table for most faculty members, Mobley said. The majority of CCV students enroll in the three weeks before classes start, she said, which makes it difficult to predict where things will stand in the fall. 

“Are there faculty who may have wanted to teach online but we don’t have an available section? Possibly,” Mobley said. “But we’re still actively working that through right now, and will be until … classes start.”

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Seamus McAvoy

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