SBCC Campus | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees grappled Thursday evening with potential policies that would mandate vaccines for all employees and students on campus.

The discussion around mandating vaccines also comes at a time when the college administration is releasing its phased return-to-campus plan for employees. The plan has upset many employees for several reasons, particularly support staff who don’t feel safe returning to their buildings.

“The return-to-campus plan cannot be separated from the vaccine mandate, especially for those of us who work in student services and are in close proximity to students for extended periods of time in small spaces without proper air ventilation or the ability to open windows,” said SBCC employee Christy Grant.

Most would feel safe if the vaccine were mandated for students and staff on campus, but that is not guaranteed by the start of the school year. One of the three vaccines currently authorized for emergency use needs to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration first.

Nonetheless, Superintendent President Utpal Goswami said that the plan is to begin a phased-in return on June 15 — when the state is slated to move on from its tiered system — and require staff to come in at least four hours a day, two days a week. He is targeting August 16 as a mandatory return to campus for all employees because about 40 percent of classes are supposed to be in person in the fall. 

Many at public comment also took issue with how Goswami rolled out the plan and felt he didn’t involve other groups, like the College Planning Council. Both Trustees Jonathan Abboud and Kate Parker questioned Goswami’s shared governance process. Goswami ultimately said that shared governance doesn’t mean shared decision making but that he is including the council.

Because of the pushback against Goswami’s back-to-campus plan, a new version of the original motion for the vaccine mandate was created to include that Goswami “shall consult with the College Planning Council regarding the timing and conditions for return to campus and shall also negotiate with all District employee organizations to adjust the terms and conditions of employment to meet this mandate and implement an agreed return-to-campus plan.”

“This alternative resolution has a lot of micromanaging, telling the institution how to do things. That is not the job of the board.… I will not be discussing it,” said Boardmember Veronica Gallardo. Though she said she wouldn’t discuss it, she later added that she is also against the mandate because SBCC should remain an open-access institution, and mandating the vaccine prevents someone from accessing it.

Though all of the other boardmembers were in agreement with mandating vaccines in general, most felt the motion needed more work before it was ready to be implemented. When compared to the similar policies for UCs and CSUs, those are around a dozen pages and much more detailed than the short paragraph before the trustees.

Abboud and Marsha Croninger drafted the motions and emphasized that the campus cannot open without mandating vaccines. 

“This is a no-brainer for me to do,” Abboud said. “It’s the only way to have a healthy and safe campus. I want to open the campus in an inclusive and safe way.”

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