Editorial: Colleges must stop persecuting unvaccinated

The Detroit News

There's the tenor of vindictiveness to how some Michigan universities are handling violations of their COVID-19 mandates that goes beyond zero tolerance to no forgiveness.

For example, the University of Michigan's policy says the unvaccinated can expect “Termination with 'no rehire' status if non-compliant after 30 days.”

The university has followed through on that promise, firing 12 employees, including four permanent staff members. Michigan State University followed similar protocols, firing more than 500 employees, 28 of whom were permanent staffers.

They were no less understanding of students. Between the two state universities, nearly 2,800 students have been either suspended or placed on academic hold — meaning they can no longer enroll in classes — for failing to comply with the school’s vaccine mandate

There's the tenor of vindictiveness to how some Michigan universities are handling violations of their COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Other state universities in Michigan, such as Oakland University and Central Michigan University, took a different route, avoiding firing or suspending staff and students, and certainly not holding a personal health decision against them for life.

“There was an understanding regarding the delicate balance between preserving individual rights and incorporating safety measures based on the best information at the time,” Oakland University spokesman Brian Bierley told The Detroit News. 

Safety of employees and students obviously should be a priority of a university. But forcing the non-compliant into unemployment or no longer offering them an education without the option of another path seems punitive. 

Two fired MSU employees, Kraig Ehm, and D'Ann Rohrer, have filed with the 6th District Court of Appeals.

“One of the reasons we made the arguments we did in this case is that MSU is a state university, so it’s essentially an arm of the government, so it has to abide by the Constitution," said Jenin Younes, the pair’s attorney. "We argued that these mandates are unconstitutional.” 

Western and UM have also faced similar litigation.

One former employee at the University of Michigan who sued, Stevan Rajkovic, received the first two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but refused the third. Rajkovic was not out of line with many other Americans in questioning the need for a booster shot. 

Rajkovic's defense rests on the argument that UM violated his First Amendment right to free expression through religious beliefs and the 14th Amendment right to due process against even state policies that trample supposed individual Constitutional rights. 

Oakland took a less confrontational approach. 

“We had some people in the student population that didn’t want to get the vaccine, and what happened was they had choices,” OU's Brian Bierley said. “They could either get the vaccine, they could get an exemption, which a lot of them were able to do for various reasons or they could take their classes online, and then they weren’t required to get vaccinated.”

That doesn’t mean OU didn’t run into issues with the vaccine and health requirements. The college placed fewer than 100 students on a disciplinary hold until they picked from one of those options.

Too many organizations took an authoritarian approach to COVID safety mandates, when a response that recognized the highly personal nature of the vaccination would have been more appropriate.

With the pandemic waning, and vaccination status seemingly not so much the determinant of who gets COVID and who doesn't, Michigan universities must revisit the permanent penalties imposed on those who were booted for not acquiescing.