ICYMI: Chancellor Malatras Writes an Op-Ed for USA Today Network Addressing Fully Reopening Campuses This Fall 2021 Semester to a More Traditional College Experience for Students Who Take Control and Get Vaccinated

July 9, 2021

Launches SUNY 30-Day Vax Challenge on Monday to Unvaccinated Students as Campuses Prepare for Fall Return Beginning Mid-August

Albany, NY – In an op-ed published today by USA Today Network’s lohud, State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras writes about the more traditional college experience ahead for students who take control and get vaccinated, and encourages all other students, faculty, and staff to get their COVID shot before the academic year begins.

Chancellor Malatras also announced the launch of the 30-Day Vax Challenge on Monday to unvaccinated students as SUNY’s colleges and universities prepare for the fall return to campus with updated guidance.

Read the Chancellors’ op-ed here.

SUNY students need the vaccine. Don't pass up a shot at normalcy

This week, the State University of New York is unveiling new guidance for the fall semester—a revamped policy that relaxes COVID-related restrictions—particularly for vaccinated students—and revives many elements of the traditional college experience that were lost over the last 16 months. It’s been a long road to this point and as the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the country, it wasn’t easy—there were many challenges along the way.

For college students, the world shut down during a defining period of their lives—the time when interests are nurtured, challenges are transcended, bonds are built, and futures are shaped.

Yet our SUNY community stepped up in major ways throughout this pandemic. Nurses in SUNY hospitals raced to the pandemic’s epicenter to join the frontlines. Medical students graduated early so they could head straight into emergency rooms. Students used 3D printers to produce face shields for medical workers. They assisted at COVID testing clinics and tutored friends struggling with remote learning. Some volunteered on peer-to-peer hotlines to help those suffering from loneliness, depression, and prolonged isolation. Others led campaigns urging students to ‘Mask Up or Pack Up’.

While many colleges and most major systems opted for full remote instruction this past fall, we reopened our campuses—albeit in a modified way. The decision was met with resistance and skepticism—with some cynical outsiders quick to tag our students as the vectors of spread in their communities.

The numbers tell a different story. Our students’ COVID positivity rate throughout the fall and spring semesters was consistently below the rate of surrounding communities—often hovering around or beneath half a percent. For our students, even a pared down college experience that mandated masks, required weekly testing, and prohibited on-campus gatherings was worth going to tremendous lengths to preserve. They were determined to maintain any semblance of normalcy and control, two feelings that have been in short supply since March 2020.

But now, with ample vaccine supply, students have a real shot to truly take back control, and for good. A shot to erase the uncertainty. To bring back the full college experience. Unmasked classrooms. Packed sporting events. Full concert halls. A night out with friends. It’s all within our reach.

The state-issued vaccine mandate for the fall semester was expectedly met with a mix of reactions. And while SUNY is implementing that mandate, the plan is contingent on full FDA approval of one of the three vaccines. The timeline for that approval is unclear.

So, this is my plea to students as well as faculty and staff: don’t wait to make your decision until the state mandate becomes official. Take back control now. Don’t leave yourself in limbo in mid-summer, still unsure what your fall semester will look like. Don’t find yourself stuck in your dorm room, while your friends meet up at a campus sporting event or live music performance. Don’t voluntarily cut yourself off from your campus community, the club activities that complement your academic endeavors, and the experiences that will define your time as a college student. These vaccines are safe. Getting yours now helps ensure that we can resume the full college experience next month.

Many of our SUNY students are already on board. In a recent survey of more than 30,000 SUNY students, nearly 75% said they’d received at least their first shot. 

And while we’re heavily focused on getting the remainder of our students vaccinated, maximizing normalcy and restoring the fundamental classroom dynamic also relies on faculty members getting their shot. Last week, we announced agreements with four major unions*—UUP, PEF, NYSCOPBA, and PBANYS—that include mandated weekly testing for members who are not vaccinated. Those who are vaccinated will be tested far less frequently, and can reenter their classrooms with the renewed peace of mind for which we’ve all been yearning. 

Over the last two months, I’ve watched students cross the commencement stage beaming with pride, joy, and optimism. There’s a palpable energy in the air—a real sense of hope and healing. Let’s not go back, let’s move forward. We control our fate. One year ago today, the future of the immersive, on-campus learning experience we love was in grave jeopardy with no resolution in sight.

Today, against all odds, it’s just a shot away. How can you not take it?  

Jim Malatras is Chancellor of the State University of New York

* Since the opinion piece was submitted, SUNY’s agreement with the Civil Service Employees Association was also extended.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY's 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.3 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2021, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit suny.edu.

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