I teach at Santa Barbara City College, I serve on the Academic Senate there, and I was the Senate vice president through the 2020-2021 academic year when the pandemic forced most classes fully online. The views that I express here are strictly my own, however, and do not represent those of the college in any way.
An unprecedented coalition of the three largest SBCC employee groups is demanding a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that is in line with those already enacted by the UC and CSU systems: that all employees and students entering campus must be protected by some COVID vaccine that has Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA or comparable approval from the WHO (World Health Organization), incorporating standard exemptions for religious beliefs or adverse health situations. We desperately want to return to face-to-face instruction and work as soon as possible, but we need to do so in a way that keeps our students and our community safe. We offer an enormous number of online classes and sections for students who do not wish to be vaccinated.
This is not a contentious demand. The classified employee’s union (CSEA) strongly supports this mandate, and the faculty’s union (FA) and Academic Senate unanimously support it. These are elected bodies that, together, represent all SBCC employees. Campus-wide polling showed that a very large majority of individual campus employees wants this mandate enacted. There are no rogue instructors here, hijacking the process and misrepresenting the will of the campus. In my 15 years of teaching at four different colleges, I have never seen support this broad or this strong for any single topic.
This is not a rash demand. Countless hours of deliberation went into reaching this consensus, informed by evidence-based advice from institutions focused on health and education policy. The Chronicle of Higher Education lists over 500 colleges across the nation that have already enacted such mandates — a broad array of public and private schools, requiring a vaccine of resident and non-resident students alike. An increasing number of California community colleges are now doing so as well.
This is a reasonable demand. We’re approaching 4 million deaths from COVID-19, and the pandemic is not over. The Delta variant, which has now reached Santa Barbara County, has shown us how quickly new viral variants can spread among the unvaccinated; in fact, some public health experts are now discussing the Delta variant as causing a pandemic of the unvaccinated. College-age people have the lowest vaccination rate of any eligible age group. They work and socialize in our community, and there’s no way to know how many of them live with unvaccinated people. This is a recipe for a public health catastrophe. We don’t want the SBCC campus to be the site of a new superspreader event.
Our demand for a vaccine mandate was supported by three members of our Board of Trustees: Dr. Anna Everett, Jonathan Abboud, and Marsha Croninger. We are deeply appreciative of their support. It was voted down by the other four Trustees: Dr. Peter Haslund, Kate Parker, Robert Miller, and Veronica Gallardo. Those four Trustees ignored multiple, specific examples from experienced instructors about how our current policy of merely encouraging vaccination will not keep our community safe and will be unenforceable in real-world educational settings. In response, those non-supportive Trustees discussed concern about SBCC’s image and our chances of getting a future bond measure passed. This is appalling and unacceptable.
The Academic Senate, with support and input from the FA and the CSEA, voted unanimously to consider a vote of no confidence in either our Superintendent/President, the four non-supportive Trustees, or both. We want to avoid this divisive step, but this is a once-in-a-generation public health crisis, and we unanimously feel like we have no other choice. Certainly, the four non-supportive Trustees’ disregard for our expertise and our pleas for safety felt like they were casting a vote of no confidence in us.
SBCC employees long for a return to face-to-face instruction and work, but we need the tool that will allow us to do that safely — a vaccine mandate. Such a mandate is backed by established and evidence-based health care policy, it’s been enacted by the UC and CSU systems, and it would protect the health and lives of our students and our community.