June 29, 2021

Dear UAF faculty, staff and students,

In last week’s COVID-19 email, I asked for your input on vaccination requirements, incentives and spacing considerations at UAF. Thank you for your input. I received nearly 300 responses. I appreciate the thought put into these comments and diversity of opinion on these topics.

Roughly 50% of the respondents said yes to vaccination requirements for residential students, for in-person students and for flexible spacing. This does not count the “yes but …”, “no but…” and “maybes.” There were many comments and responses spanning the spectrum. One issue came up in a few comments related to trust and whether or not people could be trusted to follow the policies absent a vaccine mandate. We are a university and a society that relies on trust everyday. We relied on trust over the last year when we implemented COVID-19 safety protocols and we were successful. We will need to continue to be a trusting university. Where there are people that break the trust, such as the masking policy, the consequences are outlined clearly.

Our approach to operations last year was led by our commitment to providing access to education for all students. Our goal this year is to continue this path and provide a collegiate experience, including in-person learning, campus events and living on campus with a combined approach of vaccination and safety measures.

All universities are approaching vaccination and COVID-19 safety protocols differently. Our peers in Montana, Idaho, Nevada and Utah are generally not requiring vaccination, while other universities are, including many universities in California, Washington and Oregon. UAA and UAS will choose their own paths in consultation with President Pitney and as consistent with their local environments and stakeholders. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District is holding school in-person classes with no mask requirement, and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital is not requiring vaccinations to work in person at this time.

We have to consider the changing conditions, and we continue to monitor evolving CDC guidance and community transmission rates. We want to provide as much time as is practical to better understand the best path forward, while also recognizing that time is needed for planning. Our students, staff and faculty also want to know how to plan for the fall.

Spacing and masking provided safe working and learning conditions for our in-person activities last semester. Our in-person classes prior to the availability of vaccines did not produce outbreaks. Because people agreed to and complied with the masking policy, we did not suffer a significant COVID-19 outbreak at UAF.

Vaccination is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. The science says that COVID-19 vaccines help our bodies develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 and prompt our bodies to recognize and protect us from the virus. However, not everyone can get vaccinated. Some members of our community will also choose not to get vaccinated due to reasons that include but are not limited to religious and medical concerns.

We’ve considered your input, input from the Faculty Senate COVID-19 committee, and had discussions with the UA system president, UAF Operations Support Team and the Chancellor’s Cabinet, and we’ve landed on the following strategy:
  • Continue masking policy — Required if not vaccinated. Optional if vaccinated.
  • Strive for high vaccination levels, easier access to vaccination through on-campus clinics, and a campaign to encourage vaccination and voluntary attestation. Implement strategies to increase vaccination rates.
  • Provide events and activities with an understanding that those who are not vaccinated are required to wear a mask or face covering, and also understanding that there may be activities that can only accommodate vaccinated individuals.
  • Allow for a minor degree of flexible spacing in classrooms (small reduction in capacity) — Classes will be set up for full occupancy, with some provision for physical distancing for unvaccinated students.
  • Teach classes in person — Faculty who cannot or do not wish to get vaccinated can be spaced and masked in their classrooms.
  • Have full occupancy in dorms — Students can opt for roommates who are vaccinated.
  • Evaluate progress throughout the summer to reconsider vaccine mandates.
Above all else, we must trust each other. It’s the only way forward. I encourage everyone who is able to — get vaccinated. We want in-person classes and a collegiate experience this fall. For more information about how to get vaccinated in Alaska, please visit the UA vaccination website.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments, discussions and input this last week, and thank you for choosing UAF.

— Dan White, chancellor
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