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University System of Maryland, Morgan State to mandate COVID vaccines for students, faculty, staff during fall semester

The University System of Maryland’s 12 schools and Morgan State University will require students, faculty and staff on campuses this fall to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The announcements came Friday as colleges and universities across the state consider plans to fully reopen campuses in the fall and prospective students finalize their college commitments.

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System Chancellor Jay A. Perman said the universities will comply with federal and state laws in granting exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

“This mandate was not undertaken lightly,” Perman said in a statement.

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Perman issued the mandate following a recommendation from the system’s work group including university experts in public health, infectious disease and emergency management. The system’s 12 university presidents and their cabinets also weighed in on the decision.

Perman said the system’s universities have about 15,000 students living on campuses this semester and expect more than double that number in the fall. Thousands more often live in neighborhoods around campuses.

“We want students to have these bonding opportunities,” Perman said. “We want them to have a college experience that breeds a sense of belonging. And if that’s our goal — to have students (a lot of students) safely back on campus this fall, then we have to do everything we can to protect that safety.”

Morgan State President David K. Wilson similarly announced that the campus community — consisting of about 8,000 students and more than 2,200 faculty and staff — must receive a full vaccination by Aug. 1 before the start of the fall semester.

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“The science is credible; vaccinations are the only way that we are going to achieve herd immunity, and everyone must be a part of that solution,” Wilson said in a news release.

Prior to the announcements, Johns Hopkins University was the only other Maryland university to require students provide proof of COVID vaccination before returning to campus for classes in the fall, according to tracking by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

About 30 colleges and universities around the country have made similar announcements in recent weeks, generating both applause and criticism. Within hours of the Maryland system’s announcement, critics of the mandate posted objections on social media and created a public Facebook group supporting the ability of those in the university system community to choose whether to get the vaccine.

Such policies raise legal questions for businesses and institutions across the country. Employers are legally permitted to require workers to get vaccinated, with some exceptions for religious and medical reasons.

Gov. Hogan has said this week that he would encourage vaccination requirements at colleges and universities, but leave it up to individual campuses and the University System of Maryland to make the decision.

Other Maryland universities say they are considering the measure. A spokeswoman for Loyola University Maryland said the institution is holding discussions on a vaccination mandate and will make a decision soon. Goucher College officials also are discussing the topic, a spokeswomen said Friday.

Officials at McDaniel College in Carroll County plan to make a decision on vaccination requirements by June 15. Spokeswoman Cheryl Knauer said the college selected the date to give officials time to assess the vaccine availability for students and staff and faculty.

In Annapolis, officials with the U.S. Naval Academy have not said whether a vaccination mandate is being discussed. Spokeswoman Maddie Flayler said U.S. military leaders, President Joe Biden and other federal authorities have the ability to issue a mandatory vaccine requirement for active duty members, including midshipmen.

Meanwhile, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Maryland Council 3, which represents about 6,500 workers within the university system, sent a letter to the chancellor stating the union’s intent to bargain over the policy. AFSCME has criticized the University System of Maryland for its COVID-19 response.

Health and safety measures such as vaccination requirements are subject to collective bargaining, union spokesman Stuart Katzenberg said, adding that he is unaware of any other vaccinations that employees are required to have as a condition of employment.

“The failure of the university system and its campuses to come to an agreement with AFSCME to protect its community has been disappointing,” Katzenberg said. “We look forward to negotiations with the system to make sure it’s safe for everyone.”

Some University of Maryland faculty members were thrilled to learn of the mandate this week.

“Relief, that’s the word,” said Matthew Kirschenbaum, a professor of English and digital studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, said of his reaction when he heard the news.

Kirschenbaum, who is vaccinated, said he teaches classes remotely and longs for the days when students attended his lab in person.

“It’s grim,” he said of the feeling of a sparsely populated campus. “I’m one of the only faculty coming in. The lab has had its door closed and lights off for a year. Nobody wants this.”

The 51-year-old lives in College Park about 10 minutes from campus and said he’s often reminded of the university’s presence in the region when he bumps into students in town. The vaccination mandate will extend protections not just to the campus but the community at large, he said.

Baltimore Sun Media reporter Kristen Griffith contributed to this article.

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