URBANA — University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones has a new goal for his campus: a vaccination rate of 95 percent or greater.
After Gov. J.B. Pritzker mandated vaccination for higher-education employees and students, the UI is adopting tougher language and actual discipline for those who’ve chosen to remain unvaccinated without legitimate religious or medical reasons.
On Friday, the state mandate will be put to the test on campus, with updated vaccination figures provided in the school’s 10-day enrollment report.
“Our goal is to get as many people as humanly possible vaccinated at this university,” Jones told the UI senate executive committee on Monday. “Ninety-five percent or greater is the goal we’re trying to reach.”
As it stood Thursday morning, prior to the governor’s order, 88 percent of students — both undergraduates and graduates — had uploaded completed vaccination records into the system.
For faculty: 82 percent. Academic professionals: 87 percent. Campus civil service workers were at the back of the pack, with 65 percent having a verified vaccination record uploaded into the system.
With the front-facing nature of their jobs, that percentage made Jones “greatly concerned,” but he acknowledged that the number may be a consequence of technological aptitude as much as attitudes around vaccination.
“We wanted to be very clear that there probably were underlying reasons why their numbers were lower than other segments,” Jones said. “And that’s why we implemented the opportunity to try to help people download their vaccination cards if they were unable to do so, which we know is probably a challenge for many folks.
“Heck, I had to get Robin Kaler (UI spokesperson) to help me to download mine the first time because I just couldn’t seem to get it right.”
The governor’s order, issued Thursday, prompted the university to give a deadline to get the first shot — Monday, Sept. 5 — and start making an exemption process for those citing religious or medical issues with the COVID-19 vaccine.
And now, with further review of the governor’s order, the UI will issue disciplinary guidelines for those who remain unvaccinated without an approved exemption.
“There’s going to be greater clarity about the consequences for not being vaccinated,” Jones said.
“We certainly hope that this is going to allow us to push not only (civil service workers) but the whole population of this university to think differently about vaccination.”
With the ongoing battle against the delta variant, with its ability to more easily infect vaccinated individuals, the university will begin monitoring the number of “breakthrough cases” to see if more widespread testing is necessary among certain campus groups, he said.
Provost Andreas Cangellaris added that the UI is “working on securing additional staff to make sure that we are able to scale up our testing sites as needed.”
“I will be completely honest with you today, we don’t know what the situation might look like a week from now or month from then,” Jones said. “There are certainly going to be surprises; there are going to be twists and turns along the way. And we will respond as quickly and as thoughtfully and as transparently as we can, as we’ve done in the past.”
One observation from his early campus experience: a “tremendous amount of energy” from the likely record-size student population, and a great deal of gratitude among them for the school’s COVID-19 response.
“I can’t tell you how many students I’ve heard, who have said to me personally, I am here because I was excited about how the university in Urbana-Champaign responded to the COVID-19 crisis last year,” Jones said. “In many cases, I’ve heard that their parents encourage them to come here, primarily because of the way that we managed things in the last 18 months.”