University of Alaska interim president turns down UAF’s request for broad COVID vaccine requirement

The University of Alaska Fairbanks campus
The University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. (University of Alaska photo)

University of Alaska interim president Pat Pitney has turned down a request from University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Dan White to implement a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all Fairbanks-based faculty, staff and students.

During a call with reporters on Monday, Pitney pointed to practical, legal and health requirements that weighed in the decision.

“The practical application of going with a broad mandate at only one of the universities when we’re a single employer was both, from a practical standpoint and a legal standpoint, a little bit different,” she said. “And from a health standpoint was really not differentiable.”

Pitney said an existing system-wide mask mandate and targeted vaccination requirements for some groups at individual campuses, including those living in dorms, are proving effective.

White said that the broader vaccination mandate was sought by UAF faculty, staff and student organizations. They asked Pitney to approve it earlier this month, with a Jan. 1 start date.

Pitney said she expects a federal COVID-19 vaccination mandate to apply to the entire UA system soon.

“The federal OSHA mandate we’re anticipating sooner than later, with an expectation of implementation on Jan. 1,” she said.

Pitney said the federal mandate will apply to the university system because it has federal contracts. She said that all campuses could also be subject to a potential U.S. Department of Education COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

Pitney said she supports vaccination regardless of mandates.

“I encourage that from a health perspective,” she said.

White said earlier-approved UAF vaccination requirements for students in dorms, student athletes and some classes remain in place. The university will also consider additional vaccine requirement requests on a case-by-case basis.

“We have scuba diving classes, for example, that require that you share a respirator, and those kinds of situations we’ve already approved,” he said. “It’s my expectation that over the last two weeks there’s been a number of other requests that have been kind of waiting for President Pitney’s response. So I do expect to get more vaccine requirement requests, and we’ll look at those on a case-by-case basis.”

White said about half of UAF faculty have said they’re vaccinated against COVID-19, with lesser percentages for staff and students. As of Monday, UAF said it knew of 446 COVID cases among students, employees and contractors at all of its locations since March 2020.

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