Can you talk about vaccination status to students on your campus?


When it comes to vaccination requirements, American colleges are at both ends of the spectrum.

More than 450 colleges will require Covid-19 vaccinations in some form for the fall semester: Some mandate that only students get the shots, while others are requiring that employees, too, get jabbed. Other institutions, which aren’t requiring inoculations, are going a step further and discouraging even discussion of vaccination status.

The range of regulations shows how divided the country is on vaccinations, with colleges reflecting the split. At the institutions where talking about vaccination status is discouraged, there’s also confusion.

The University of Iowa will not require vaccinations for the fall semester. Instead, the university’s official stance is: “Although there is no requirement on campus to receive these vaccines, we urge you to get vaccinated.”

A recent memo told faculty and staff members in the liberal-arts college that they are not allowed to ask students if they are vaccinated, or plan to be vaccinated, because that conversation may “prompt disclosure of disability-related information.” The memo says that vaccination-status discussions are off limits during class, in emails, and in other communications to class members. Instructors engaged in discussions with students about vaccination should be “alert to any coercive or pressuring behavior among students.”

It’s not clear what counts as “pressuring” behavior. When asked by The Chronicle for clarification, a university spokesman declined an interview.

At the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, faculty members aren’t allowed to ask about students’ vaccination status. The institution’s policy is tied to a state law that bans state agencies from requiring vaccinations. The law, however, doesn’t cover asking about vaccination status.

A state law in Texas also bars public colleges from requiring vaccinations. But it’s not clear in the Lone Star State whether faculty members may discuss vaccination status. A university spokesman told The Chronicle that he was not sure of the policy on vaccination conversations.

If the policy on talking about vaccination status is uncertain or — in some cases — if such discussions are discouraged, where does that leave academic freedom? One expert told The Chronicle that some people fear that vaccination conversations may violate the federal rules on health-care privacy known as Hipaa. That’s a misunderstanding: Those rules don’t apply to instructors.

What’s your institution’s policy on vaccinations? Can you talk about vaccination status with your students? If the policy is murky, or if your institution is still figuring it out, read our Tom Bartlett’s story in the meantime.


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