As Santa Barbara City College’s fall semester approaches — and with the added instability caused by superintendent/president Utpal Goswami’s sudden resignation last week — representatives from faculty and classified staff continue the fight for an institutional policy requiring mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for anybody returning to campus.
According to a copy of negotiation demands acquired from the California School Employees Association (CSEA), and endorsed by the Faculty Association and Academic Senate, college leaders are looking to approve a policy that aligns with recent vaccination mandates put into place in UC schools across the state, including UCSB.
“The mandate is so important for several reasons,” said Raeanne Napoleon, president of the Academic Senate. “The biggest reason is because the age group that dominates what is typically considered ‘college age’ has the lowest rates of vaccination.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported only 47.3 percent of Americans between ages 18 and 24 have received at least one vaccine dose, and 31.9 percent are fully vaccinated, a number much lower than other age demographics.
“With this in mind, coming back to the classroom would be hazardous to not only the health of the people in the room but anyone they interact with. Having a vaccine mandate is the safest option for all and an opportunity for us to return to normal operation as soon as possible,” Napoleon said.
The demands include a requirement for all people to be vaccinated before coming on campus, a “voluntary return” option for classified staff, some of whom have been forced to return to work on campus regardless of vaccination status or comfort level. The updated demands include provisions meant to encourage vaccination and allow for remote work for immunocompromised staff.
Another sticking point on the list is consistent communication of policies, which has been an issue so far as some staff have returned to campus with no defined day-to-day policy to follow. Classified staff often feel lost in the shuffle as administration rushes a return to in-person instruction.
Plans for a vote of no confidence on four members of the Board of Trustees who voted against the mandate — Peter Haslund, Kate Parker, Veronica Gallardo, and Robert Miller — and Goswami were put on hold when Goswami suddenly announced his resignation last week, though the action may still be taken if the board refuses to approve the updated mandate.
“I can’t say whether it will go quicker or slower now that Dr. Goswami has resigned,” Napoleon said. “He was in favor of a mandate, with full FDA approval, and it was the board that got in the way of that progress.”
With the same board, Napoleon said, she can’t see that enough has changed.
“Actually, the vote of no confidence has expanded. We started these conversations around this incident of the board not listening and responding to campus concerns, but this is only one of many times this has happened,” Napoleon said. She cited political pressure put on the superintendent/president, as well as the disconnect between trustees and faculty/staff, as the impetus behind the talk of the no-confidence vote.
Over the past few days, with all of the shaking up at the top — ending in Helen Benjamin coming out of retirement, again, to take the helm while the school searches for a permanent replacement — the mandate has seemed to gain traction, and at a special meeting on July 16, the Academic Senate discussed the issue at length. The outcome of the meeting was a decision to approach the board with a choice: approve a vaccine mandate or the senate will move forward with the vote against the four trustees opposed.
According to emails from chapter president Liz Auchincloss to CSEA members, “demands which seemed ambitious a few days ago suddenly seem so much more attainable.” The agenda for the next board meeting has a memorandum between the Faculty Association and the district regarding a return to campus that mentions masks and “health surveys” but does not include the vaccine mandate. Currently there is no solid deadline on approval for the mandate.
“Right now, fall is still in flux,” Napoleon said. “With final decisions on a mandate or not and the negotiations with the faculty union finished, faculty can now make their final decisions — but that’s still happening.”
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