UVa’s Bait and Switch

by Walter Smith

The University of Virginia announced its COVID-19 vaccination mandate May 20. Unless students filed for a medical or religious exemption, they had to be vaccinated this fall. If they failed to comply, they would be subject to weekly testing. No mercy for COVID survivors who had developed natural immunities.

On August 6th UVa proclaimed that due to concerns over the spread of the Delta variant it would be re-instituting a masking requirement for all students. On August 9, the university announced for the first time that students who failed to comply with the vaccine would be “disenrolled.”

By the way, did I mention that UVa sent out its bills July 20 and the last day to arrange the semester payment plan was Aug. 5?

Call me a cynic.

I’ll confess my biases up front. I’m not an “anti-vaxxer.” If people want to get vaccinated, that’s fine by me. I’m an “anti-mandater.” For what it’s worth, my stance is consistent with existing law and the Constitution, in case anybody actually cares about those trifling things. I wrote an article for Bacon’s Rebellion some time ago, and, to date, no one has rebutted any of the problems I denoted then. I will continue to assert that “there is no pandemic exception to the Constitution.”

UVa cajoled many students to comply with its mandate with the promise of being freed from masking and weekly prevalence testing for COVID. Consistent with pre-COVID vaccine legislation applying to Virginia colleges since 1986, the university allowed medical and religious exemptions. However, the COVID exemption forms are markedly different. An entire second page can best be described as a contract of adhesion.

Via the Freedom of Information Act, I asked to see the iterations of those forms to see how they ended up as they did. Surprise, surprise… UVa withheld the documents as attorney-client privilege.

I also asked under FOIA how the mandate complied with Student Health’s policies concerning patient rights, in particular this language from page 2:

You have the right to refuse or give your informed consent before any diagnostic or therapeutic procedure is performed.

UVA’s response?

The Student Health policy you have cited pertained to the rights of students seeking care in the Student Health and Wellness clinic, not to rights of University students generally. There is no conflict between the University’s student vaccination policy and the rights of students as patients at SHW and hence, no record showing that policy you have cited has been “overridden.

Does that seem disingenuous? What if a student schedules his mandatory COVID vaccination at Student Health, and, after the required informed consent process, the student says “no.” Which policy wins?

Let’s move on to the two latest atrocities. On August 6th UVa announced the new masking requirement. The rules do allow an exception when “actively eating.” I look forward to the definition of that – will too many chews be verboten? Bites too small? Too long of a pause between bites? Will we need a doctor’s excuse for slow eaters or for people who really like to masticate?

Now let’s talk about students who had COVID resistance from past infections and saw no need to be vaccinated. How many got the shot anyway — perhaps from a desire not to be masked, or perhaps to avoid being “othered” by the oh-so-tolerant woke mob? Haven’t they been betrayed?

On August 9 Dean Robyn Hadley, VP of student affairs, sent out an email with two new tidbits – parents were required to wear masks for the privilege of sending off their child to the hallowed University. As a parent, I’m done with masks. I’m not sick. The particles of the virus are 20 times smaller than the openings of the average mask. They do not stop viral spread. It is theater. If I’m sick, I’ll stay home. Engaging in performance art is off my list.

But the worst was saved for later in Hadley’s email where a word never seen in prior communications was casually mentioned – “disenrolled.” If you aren’t vaxxed or haven’t agreed to the onerous terms to receive a medical or religious exemption, then you will be removed from enrollment. Who made this unilateral decision? Where’s the due process?

The official Board of Visitors position is that it delegated the decision to President Jim Ryan. Have board members looked at the COVID medical exemption and asked why it differed from the regular medical exemption? How about the religious exemption differences? Does anybody on the Board advocate for students? Does anyone care about the treatment of religious or liberty-loving students?

To ask the question is to answer it.

Walter Smith is an attorney living in the Richmond area.