University officials discuss vaccination requirements, exemptions, repercussions at town hall meeting

Alexandra Golden and Emma Andrus

As the Dec. 20 deadline approaches for Kent State’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement, a panel of university representatives discussed details of the requirement and information about exemptions at a town hall meeting Wednesday.

“If you have not uploaded your vaccine information or if you have an exemption on file or if you’re not vaccinated you will be invited for regular weekly testing during week two,” said Manfred van Dulmen, associate provost for academic affairs and chair of the Pandemic Leadership Committee. Van Dulmen frequently acts as the university spokesperson on issues related to its COVID-19 response.

Phase two of the vaccination plan began in November when the university shifted from randomly screening individuals to weekly regular testing for those who have not uploaded their vaccination information or are not vaccinated, van Dulmen said.

The town hall, held virtually via Boxcast, consisted of a 45-minute panel discussion with university leaders and was hosted by international doctoral student of health policy and management Joud Roufael.

The panel discussion was open to students, faculty and staff and was intended to serve as a way to answer questions, but according to Eric Mansfield, assistant vice president for university communications and marketing, the university was unable to get the chat function working for the event.

Attendees were advised to send questions to [email protected], call 330-672-8227 or refer to the vaccine requirement and scheduling section on the university’s website. Questions submitted by KentWired staff were sent an automated email response containing links on where to go for more information and instructions on the exemption process.

 ”If you are enrolled in any in-person classes on any Kent State campus you will be required to get the vaccine,” the email stated. “Unless you are vaccinated or have an active exemption for the semester you have registered for, you will be de-registered from any in-person courses you register for.”

In addition, the university’s coronavirus FAQ page states unvaccinated students or those without an exemption will be “ineligible to participate in on-campus experiences, including in-person classes or living in the residence halls” in the spring 2022 semester.

Those who don’t want to receive the vaccine have the option of applying for an exemption and participating in regular testing, van Dulmen said.

As of Nov. 1, 709 students filed for an exemption with 466 approved and 72 rejected. The rest are still pending, Mansfield said in an email.

Students, faculty and staff who want to request an exemption from the requirement must submit the required documentation for either “medical, religious or personal conscience reasons,” according to Kent State’s website.

Forms for the exemptions ask for applicants to provide a written statement explaining the context of their request. The documentation is then reviewed and a decision is made to accept or reject the request. The process of reviewing exemptions can take up to four weeks, said Lisa Dannemiller, chief university physician.

Students who do not submit proof of vaccination or apply for an exemption will be considered non-compliant, said Jack Witt, vice president for human resources. At that point, progressive disciplinary action will take place, with student discipline handled by the Office of Student Conduct.

“Our whole idea here is to be as educational as possible,” said Todd Kamenash, associate dean of students for conduct and community engagement. “We want to make sure that everybody is aware of what the expectations are, because people hear ‘student conduct’ and they get concerned about it. Our focus is truly on education. We want to make sure that our students know exactly what they have to do and what’s expected of them.”

Faculty and staff who don’t get vaccinated and don’t cooperate with the testing requirements will receive pre-disciplinary counseling, Witt said. If employees continue to not cooperate, there will be a need to initiate progressive discipline, he said. As of Nov. 1, there were 119 staff and employees who filed for exemptions with 67 accepted, 19 rejected and the rest still being reviewed, Mansfield said via email.

“We’ve got more than 80% compliance as it relates to the faculty on this issue,” said Kevin West, associate provost for faculty affairs, “and I really think that level of compliance comes from all the work that was done with the AAUP and working together with faculty to listen to their concerns as we move this process forward.” The panel did not provide the percentage of students and staff currently in compliance during the town hall.

“We’re trying to be very reasonable,” Witt said. “We’re trying to be thoughtful. We’re trying to be open about this. It’s really important that individuals, if they have questions, that they ask them and then move toward compliance if they’re not currently compliant.”

Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to upload their documentation as soon as possible ahead of the Dec. 20 deadline to be fully vaccinated or exempt, said Talea Drummer-Ferrell, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

Individuals with questions about the requirements or those who need assistance uploading their vaccine documentation can visit the information desk on second floor of the library on Mondays from 1 to 5 p.m., Tuesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5 p.m., Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5 p.m.

University officials on the panel included:

  • Lisa Dannemiller, chief university physician for University Health Services

  • Talea Drummer-Ferrell, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students

  • Todd Kamenash, associate dean of students for conduct and community engagement

  • Tara Smith, professor of epidemiology

  • Manfred van Dulmen, associate provost for academic affairs, dean of the Division of Graduate Studies and chair of the Pandemic Leadership Committee

  • Kevin West, associate provost for faculty affairs

  • Jack Witt, vice president for human resources

  • Chris Woolverton, professor of epidemiology

Emma Andrus is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].

Alexandra Golden is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]