Editor’s Note: The following is a public comment sent by Professor David Richardson to the leadership of his community college system, the State Center Community College District in central California. It has been lightly edited for readability.
Board of Trustees, College Presidents & Chancellor,
Thank you for allowing me to offer a public comment on the proposals under consideration for this evening’s special meeting on COVID-19 Mitigation. First off, let me begin by saying that I am fully vaccinated, so I am not a so-called “anti-vaxxer,” nor am I a “science denier.” I made the decision to get vaccinated in consultation with my personal physician, along with a long history of pre-existing conditions and the hope that if I got vaccinated, I would be allowed to return to the career to which I had devoted the majority of my adult life (31 years and counting).
I am sad that this needs to be my first statement, but I know that if it is not, everything else I have to say will fall on deaf ears. Unfortunately, today, we live in a society where if you don’t establish your social, political, or cultural “credentials” right off the bat, no one will listen to anything else. So, with that being said…
I have written this comment to urge the board to refrain from jumping on yet another educational bandwagon which seems to be sweeping the country, that is, to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all faculty, staff, and students who are part of the State Center Community College District. At best, this course of action is a histrionic overreaction to a virus with a 99.5% survival rate across all demographics, which, by the way, is steadily improving as we get a better handle on this disease. At worst, it’s an outright evil, as it will disproportionately impact the very students we claim to care about the most.
Every study shows that vaccine hesitancy is greatest among traditionally minoritized racial and ethnic groups, among the undocumented, and, in many instances, among the economically disadvantaged. If you pursue the worst-case scenario and we shut our doors to the unvaccinated, we will be turning our backs on the very students for which the California Community College system was created in the first place.
We have already damaged many students’ education, perhaps irreparably, with our embrace of an online format for the last year and a half, which, as any (honest) educator will tell you, did not work for the majority of our students. I’m not saying online education doesn’t have its place. If a student is truly motivated, self-disciplined, and conscientious, it can work. But for the ill-prepared and perhaps discipline-challenged student, it is a disaster. Yes, we continued to hand out degrees and pat ourselves on the back for holding the line on education, but again, those of us who are honest with ourselves know different.
I have heard some of my colleagues’ counter-arguments in recent days. They say our number one priority is to keep our students safe on campus. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall seeing “Keep Students Safe” anywhere in the mission statements of either the district or the individual colleges. It might be in the mission statement of a daycare center or a nursing home, but not a college. Our number one priority should be to educate our students. We have medical services, firefighters, and police officers to keep them safe, all of whom are much better trained and infinitely more skilled than we are.
I have also heard that if we save even one student, then it will be worth all the pain, suffering, and lost opportunities that we have inflicted on our entire student population. “Save them from what?” I ask. Save them from a virus with a hospitalization and death rate so infinitesimally small as to be 0% for their age range? Is that where we are as a civilization? As I said to my students this morning, thank goodness we didn’t have to deal with a real epidemic disease like the Black Death in the 1340s or tuberculosis in the 19th century. Society would have already collapsed, and we would all be huddled in our closets waiting for the end.
Maybe we should start driving students to school because they are at much greater risk of getting in a car accident on the way to our campuses than they will ever be from COVID. Maybe we should put up handrails from the parking lots to classrooms so they won’t slip and fall. This sounds ridiculous, I know, but eighteen months ago, what is happening now would have been unthinkable. We are asking our students to choose between the right to make their own medical decisions and their education. We may think we are doing it for their own good, but as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
How many totalitarian governments have justified their actions by telling themselves they were for the greater good? If we must err, isn’t it better to err on the side of personal freedom and responsibility? Please don’t let the current atmosphere of panic and fear coerce you into mandating a policy which will further divide us and alienate the very populations we have pledged to serve. Thank you.
David R Richardson
History Instructor MCC
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin