Delta Dawn at JMU?

by Joe Fitzgerald

More than 1 in 9 James Madison University students was infected with Covid-19 during the school year that ended in May. To date, the university has accepted little responsibility for those illnesses or for any associated spread in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

President Alger and members of the Senior Leadership Team have been predominantly silent about any mistakes the university may have made and what it will do to correct them this year as students return in the midst of the more virulent Delta Variant spread.

The university’s stance a week after classes began last year was “cautious optimism,” according to an email from Alger a few days before in-person classes were canceled. A few weeks later a university spokesperson, not Alger or any senior administrator, told the media, “There’s nothing at blame here except for the virus.”

Silence from the university and from Alger has continued this summer. The university has said it will require students to be vaccinated, but in effect the policy amounts to asking students to tell the university if they aren’t going to be vaccinated. Faculty and staff are explicitly not required to be vaccinated.

Students who don’t want to be vaccinated can fill out a religious exemption form, which requires notarization; fill out a medical exemption form, which requires a doctor’s letter; or fill out a form saying they don’t want the vaccine for personal reasons.

It’s tempting to call the vaccine “requirement” a paper tiger, but it’s barely a cardboard kitten.

In addition to not requiring vaccinations and saying they are, the university says it can’t release numbers of vaccinations and exemptions until Aug. 16, four days before freshman move-in and after most upper-class students have already returned.

Recapping: JMU is not requiring students, faculty, or staff to be vaccinated, and is not sharing what the school knows about vaccination rates or numbers.

JMU’s deans all co-signed a letter last year about renaming buildings. They should consider addressing the issues of vaccinations and information, or following the faculty senate’s lead on demanding mandatory vaccinations.

If you or someone you know has any influence with any member of Alger’s Senior Leadership Team or with any member of the board of visitors, this would be a good time to reach out to them.

This is not a time for cautious optimism.

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg, where he still lives. This column has been republished with permission from his Substack column, “Still Not Sleeping.”