What’s next for vaccine mandates?

Lucy Brenton, vice chair of the Indiana Libertarian Party,
Protesters rally at Indiana U. against its Covid-19 vaccine requirement.

On Sunday, a federal judge ruled against a legal challenge to a Covid-19 vaccine mandate by the Indiana University system. The court ruled that the university can require that all students are vaccinated against Covid-19 before they come to campus for the fall semester, unless they qualify for an exemption.

How significant is the ruling? It suggests that similar lawsuits that challenge colleges’ vaccine requirements might not succeed in court.

Eight undergraduate and graduate students had sued the university in June. They argued that the vaccine mandate for students and employees violates the 14th Amendment. In his 100-page opinion, Damon R. Leichty of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana cited the same amendment but arrived at a different conclusion: “Recognizing the students’ significant liberty to refuse unwanted medical treatment, the Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff.”

At the university, students can request exemptions to the mandate for ethical, religious, and medical reasons or if they want to attend classes remotely. Unvaccinated students who don’t qualify for exemptions will not be allowed to participate in campus activities and will have their class registrations canceled.

Several states ban businesses and government entities from requiring proof of vaccination. The court ruling noted that Indiana law prohibits such “vaccine passports” but not a vaccine requirement.

So what about universities that aren’t requiring a vaccine? Purdue University, also in Indiana, is not mandating that students get vaccinated for the fall semester. Instead, they can opt to be tested regularly and go through a mandatory quarantine if they are exposed to the coronavirus. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., Purdue’s president, said the university hasn’t decided on whether unvaccinated students will be required to wear masks.

Colleges remain split on whether they will require vaccines or strongly recommend them instead. And there are more legal challenges to keep your eye on. The California State University system and the University of Connecticut are both facing federal lawsuits over their vaccine mandates.

The fall semester is right around the corner. But the questions and challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic are far from over. Read our Oyin Adedoyin’s full story here.

Check out our latest free report, “Building Diverse Campuses.”

The report — now available online — examines key questions on equity and inclusion, like: How can a task force be most effective? Does diversity training help? It also offers four case studies of campuses that have increased faculty and board diversity and made racial equity a priority across the institution. Give it a read, let my colleague Sarah Brown know what you think, and feel free to share the link.


  • Learn. If you’re in a rut at work, here’s how to get back on track. (The Imperfectionist)
  • Read. Here’s what you need to know about the Covid-19 Delta variant if you’re vaccinated. (Slate)
  • Listen. You can’t go wrong with the Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell’s album Os Afro-Sambas. (Spotify)
  • Watch. Travel back to the summer of 1969 to Harlem, New York for the concert series of a lifetime by watching Summer of Soul, a documentary on Hulu. (YouTube)


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