KU lays out plans for mostly normal fall semester; vaccination plans still unclear

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The University of Kansas this week told instructors it was moving into the looming fall semester with a more normal sense of operations in mind.

While recognizing that there will still be KU community members who need greater levels of accommodation due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, a message from four academic vice provosts said the university is planning to phase out most of the pandemic-specific course adaptations that have been in place for more than a year.

Most notably, course instructors will no longer be required to offer course adaptations for students seeking to learn online, the message says. KU’s goal, the message said, is to move to a process where students can work directly with their home academic unit if they need such accommodations.

More pandemic-friendly accommodations will likely continue to be available for KU’s international students who may struggle more traveling to campus than domestic students, the message said.

Such a shift in operation status, though, seemed to irk a university advocacy group called OneKU, which comprises some 100 faculty members ranging from lecturers to department chairs. In a statement to The Lawrence Times, the group said the decision was the latest in a string of moves from upper administration that didn’t consult with those actually teaching classes before making a change.

The chief concern, OneKU said, is moving into a more normal in-person course load while KU doesn’t appear keen to require its community members to receive COVID-19 vaccines prior to the fall semester — as it has done the past two semesters with testing for the respiratory virus.

“Important issues regarding COVID and safety on the KU campus during the fall semester have provoked little consultation by upper administration with faculty and staff.  OneKU urges the full discussion of these important issues,” the group said. “Hundreds of universities and colleges, including entire state university systems in California, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, are requiring students to be vaccinated once FDA approvals of the vaccines are finalized.”

“We call on KU to join them.”

As the Times reported in early April, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod told members of KU’s University Governance that if he had to guess at that time, vaccines wouldn’t be required for the fall semester. Doing so, he said, would be tricky from a legal perspective since the three vaccines available in the United States didn’t yet have a full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Though it’s true that the three vaccines currently on the marketplace — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — don’t have a full approval from the FDA, they are approved for use via an Emergency Use Authorization. An EUA is the same status given to the COVID-19 tests KU uses for its community.

“I think by this summer we’re going to be a different place than where we are right now,” Girod said in April. “But if I had to make a call right now, I would say probably not.”

A KU spokesperson did not answer a request for comment from the Times, sent Thursday, on whether anything had changed regarding its vaccination plans since Girod’s April 9 statement, or whether it had a response to OneKU’s call for requiring vaccines for the campus community.

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