As the COVID-19 vaccines becomes more widely available, many are wondering if Illinois State University will require students to get vaccinated to return to campus this fall.
Several colleges across the country have already said that they will require the vaccine but ISU Director of Media Relations Eric Jome says that decision is up to the state.
“We as an individual institution, that kind of mandate, there’s a lot of complicated factors. I mean, you’ve got legal issues and all sorts of things,” Jome said. “So, really that’s the kind of thing that would have to happen at the state level.”
Since ISU is a public university, Jome said that they have less flexibility in certain decisions than a private university might. However, Jome believes that most universities are looking to state governments for guidance.
“But even private institutions a lot of times are [looking to] the Illinois Department of Public Health for guidance on vaccinations and things like that because you’ve got a number of vaccinations that are required by the state for K-12 schools and also for people going into college,” Jome said.
While ISU has not required the vaccine yet, the university has been encouraging students and staff to get vaccinated. The university has also been holding its own vaccine clinics every Thursday in the Brown Ballroom at the Bone Student Center.
“We have been running vaccine clinics here on campus since late January, and we’ve gotten a lot of people in the Phase 1A and 1B categories [but] certainly not everybody,” Jome said. “But we also try to make sure we let the campus community be aware not only of the clinics on campus but the ones in town.”
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website, McLean County has fully vaccinated about 12% of the population.
Sophomore Sydni Stoffregen returned to campus for the spring semester due to having one in-person class. She said that without everyone being vaccinated as of right now, she finds it difficult to feel safe around her peers at times.
“We just wear our masks and try to stay as far away from people as we can, but it’s kind of tough because we have to work close together,” Stoffregen said.
Stoffregen said that her mother is requiring her to get a vaccine to return to campus next semester, but she still would not feel completely safe if not everyone is vaccinated.
“I think it should be mandatory that everyone gets the vaccine,” Stoffregen said. “If everyone kept wearing masks, I guess I’d feel the same as I do now, but I’d feel much safer if everyone was vaccinated.”
Many students are hoping to have in-person classes next semester as more people get vaccinated, but students are not the only ones affected by the possibility of whether the vaccine will be required or not.
English professor Jeremy Hurley currently teaches two classes, but both are online. Hurley believes if everyone were to be vaccinated, then the university could go back to an almost pre-COVID-19 world.
“I think if everyone is vaccinated and there aren’t problems with any of these new variants, I think it would be OK to go back and kind of do this ‘business as usual,’” Hurley said. “I think part of the trepidation on the part of faculty is that the university’s approach right now is exactly the same that it was last year. We were all told to prepare for face-to-face classes until basically the last minute.”
Hurley would not be making the decision on whether his students have vaccines since it will ultimately be left up to university officials. If ISU does not require the vaccine, then it more than likely means that professors will have to enforce proper safety precautions in the classroom.
“If the university doesn’t have a firm policy then it becomes the instructors’ responsibility to try to keep everybody safe and to ask students to wear masks, and I don’t really feel like that’s my job,” Hurley said. “I feel like the university should not put that burden on instructors.”
ISU postponed fall registration dates in hopes of getting a better idea of whether classes could be in person.
“I think we’ve heard a lot about what the university wants, what the board of regions wants, but we haven’t really heard very much about what the students want in this situation,” Hurley said. “It’d be nice to hear what other stakeholders are saying about this upcoming fall semester.”