Much of the country has moved on from the era of Covid restrictions. Even New York City plans to end its private-sector vaccine mandate on November 1. Yet frustration over vaccine mandates persists at Fordham University, where November 1 marks the deadline for a third mandate to go into effect on its campuses.
Fordham, a Jesuit school with its two main campuses in the Bronx and near Manhattan’s Columbus Circle, has informed its students, faculty, and staff that they must receive a second Covid booster shot to maintain access to campus, and therefore, their classes. Additionally, all visitors to campus—including anyone over six months old—must be “fully up-to-date” with Covid vaccines. The administration based its decision on current Centers for Disease Control “recommendations,” yet Fordham is one of fewer than 20 colleges and universities in the country taking the leap to require the newly approved bivalent booster—which very few Americans have been eager to get.
The first two vaccine mandates at Fordham met little to no public opposition from students and staff, but this one has sparked a justified backlash. Fordham’s newly inaugurated president and administration have received at least three public petitions from various groups asking to rescind the mandate: one sent by the Fordham community at large, including parents and alumni; another from Fordham students; and the third from Fordham faculty and staff.
The 100 signatures on the faculty and staff petition indicate that opposition to the mandate is far from marginal. Nicholas Tampio, a professor of political science at Fordham, noted that the sheer number of signatories made the petition a “bipartisan” effort. Despite the common political divide on the issue of vaccine mandates and Fordham’s liberal-leaning environment, Tampio said that the petition felt less like a political statement and more like common sense. Several signatures came from support staff and facilities workers, he added, who, compared with professors, “are not tenured, are not prominent, and have a lot more at stake.”
The move also reinforces the administration’s draconian Covid approach. Another signatory to the petition was Professor William Baumgarth, who retired from the Political Science department in 2021 after almost 50 years of teaching at Fordham rather than comply with the school’s initial Covid vaccine mandate. Baumgarth’s experience with the Fordham administration highlights the school’s current strategy of dealing with opposition: ignore it. In a statement of intention to the university last year, Baumgarth wrote that Fordham had left him no other choice but to retire if he did not get the vaccine. He admits now that he “wasn’t hopeful that anyone would read it,” and never received a response from the administration beyond a notice that he would not be allowed onto the gated campus to retrieve his belongings from his office. “It was like I was being held hostage,” Baumgarth recalls.
In addition to petitions, several members of the Fordham community gathered to protest the mandate outside the Bronx campus last week, on the day of university president Tania Tetlow’s inauguration. The 40 or so protestors represented the most visible sign of opposition to date. Fordham administrators denied requests to speak with reporters attending the protest, instead sending a statement that blandly describes the boosters as “safe” and “effective” and fails to justify the mandate.
The second booster mandate takes matters to the extreme, reinterpreting the CDC recommendation for being “fully up-to-date” as a requirement. One professor pointed out that following all CDC recommendations would prohibit the school from serving someone more than one drink at a fundraising dinner. In any case, as much of the country moves on from invasive Covid policies, the school—despite its “Fordham Forward” moniker for Covid policy—is going backward.
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