As Oregon’s Private Colleges Mandate COVID-19 Vaccinations, Public Universities Hesitate

Students, staff and faculty at Willamette University who plan to engage in in-person school activities, must be vaccinated in order to stay employed and enrolled.

PSU_aerial3_HCromett Portland State University. (Henry Cromett)

Oregon’s public and private institutions of higher learning are diverging on whether to require COVID-19 vaccinations for students returning to campus this fall. Two private colleges have announced vaccination mandates in the past week—but public universities are demurring.

Last Thursday, the same day Lewis & Clark College announced that its students must be vaccinated against COVID-19, Willamette University in Salem issued the same mandate—except its new policy also requires employees be vaccinated.

Willamette University students and employees will have to record their vaccination information on online portals. Similarly to Lewis & Clark students, Willamette will allow exemptions for either medical or non-medical reasons and the university will evaluate each request on a case by case basis, their website states.

Oregon State University has decided against requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, student newspaper the Daily Barometer reported on April 22.

That decision may soon come under public pressure. Gov. Kate Brown, at an April 23 press conference, said she supports higher education institutions’ mandating the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Our colleges and universities require vaccines of other types for the safety of their staff, their professors, and of course other students,” Brown says. “And I think it absolutely makes sense for our universities and the state of Oregon to require those vaccines.”

But public universities remain hesitant. The University of Oregon and Portland State University tell WW that neither institution has mandated a COVID-19 vaccination for the fall. But both institutions left the door open to instituting a requirement.

“As of this minute, Portland State University is not requiring vaccines,” writes spokesperson Christina Williams. “We are aware of Gov. Brown’s statement today that she recommends a vaccine requirement. We will continue to monitor public health guidance on this topic and adjust our policies to ensure a safe, healthy and equitable environment for students and employees.”

The University of Oregon also hedged.

“The university encourages all students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated, but does not require vaccinations,” wrote UO spokesperson Molly Blancett. “The university continues to follow closely public health requirements, best practices and other factors in determining whether vaccinations will be required in the future for those engaging in face-to-face activities at the UO.”

The decision by schools whether to mandate vaccinations is an early indicator of what other major institutions will do. For now, the guarantee of a vaccinated campus appears to be limited to the most exclusive campuses.

The deadline for Willamette University proof of vaccination or exemption requests is the beginning of the 2021 fall term. Their website notes that this rule also applies to students who have already contracted the virus.

Consequences will likely to follow for those who miss the deadlines.

“Employees or students who are not fully vaccinated or have not received an exemption by the deadlines above may not move on to campus or attend class or campus activities, and may be subject to registration holds, disciplinary actions, or other requirements or restrictions to support community health,” their website states.

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