A professor at Huron University College was placed on paid leave for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. A professor at the University of British Columbia says he is persona non grata in the department of medicine for raising doubts about the need for vaccination in some populations. And a professor at Brock told students in an e-mail that the university was acting immorally by imposing mandatory vaccination rules and that they shouldn’t be bullied into getting a shot.
The debates around vaccination are causing rifts on university campuses as institutions juggle the need to ensure a safe environment with a duty to defend academic inquiry and personal freedom.
At Huron University College, an affiliate of the University of Western Ontario in London, one professor refused to abide by the mandatory vaccination policy and has been placed on paid leave. Julie Ponesse, a professor of philosophy, said the university told her she will not be allowed to attend campus and must not attempt to teach. She said teaching online was never brought up by her employer as an option.
Huron’s policy requires all those wishing to come to campus to provide proof of vaccination or to have an exemption, in which case they must be tested twice a week for COVID-19.
Prof. Ponesse – who has appeared as a guest at online events of Maxime Bernier, leader of the far-right People’s Party of Canada – said she believes a mandatory vaccination order is coercive and violates principles of bodily autonomy and informed consent. She says she does not oppose vaccination in general, but in this case wants to make her own choice.
“I am opposed to being mandated to take a COVID-19 vaccine,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Drew Davidson, a spokesperson for Huron, said the university instituted a mandatory vaccination policy in line with a directive from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Steven Pelech, a biochemistry PhD and professor in the faculty of medicine at UBC, has raised concerns at his university over the administration’s stance strongly encouraging vaccination for young people. Vaccination or frequent testing are currently required to attend campus, and many professors and student leaders are calling for the policy to be strengthened to one of mandatory vaccination.
Prof. Pelech said his views about what he sees as the risk of vaccination have made him persona non grata in his department, where he has tenure and has taught for 33 years. He doesn’t want to be wrong, he said, but he has arrived at conclusions that place him outside the mainstream.
“My department head is telling me people aren’t happy with me, but she isn’t giving me any trouble,” he said.
Matthew Ramsey, a spokesman for UBC, said the views expressed by Prof. Pelech “are his private views and do not represent the views of UBC.”
Students at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., received an e-mail from the account of an economics professor that said the university president’s August announcement of a vaccine mandate was misleading. The e-mail, sent from the account of professor Cornelius Christian, encouraged students to look into exemptions for religious reasons or reasons of “bodily autonomy.”
The e-mail said: “I suspect Brock is violating the law, and it is definitely violating morality, by mandating vaccines.”
Prof. Christian did not reply to an inquiry from The Globe and Mail.
Brock requires those coming to campus to be vaccinated, while those who meet “specific and limited” medical or human-rights accommodations are permitted if they pass twice weekly testing.
Brock University interim president Lynn Wells said she wouldn’t comment on the actions of any individual faculty member.
“People at universities are engaged in debate all the time, that’s what universities are for,” Dr. Wells said. But she said the university has been clear about its policy.
“Debate is different from compliance with university policy and with government regulations. ... If people want to debate that they’re welcome to do that. But in order to come onto campus, they must be vaccinated.”
A small number of staff at Brock decided not to return to work this fall as a result of the vaccine mandate, Dr. Wells said.
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