Faculty and staff vaccination policy

Williams faculty and staff,

Before I share the latest policy news, I want to pause and note how wonderful yesterday’s senior celebration was. Whether you attended in person or not, you were all part of the effort to see our students through an exceptional year and then make a culminating celebration possible—including major changes to the plan on short notice. Thank you for your flexibility and your commitment: those smiling faces were wonderful to see after so much hard work.

Now to the policy update. After careful consideration of public health research, various policy and legal perspectives and decisions by peer schools, Senior Staff and I have decided that the college will require faculty and staff to provide proof of Covid-19 vaccination starting later this month, and by no later than the end of August—the time by which we’re all expected to return to our on-campus workspaces. Employees will be allowed to request exemptions from this requirement for medical or religious reasons or strongly-held personal beliefs on the subject.

We’ll send a followup communication later this month describing the processes for submitting proof of vaccination status and exemption requests.

Vaccinated faculty and staff will be allowed to stop testing and wearing masks indoors as soon as you’ve provided your documentation and received a reply stating that the document has been confirmed. Staff and faculty who aren’t vaccinated and receive an exemption will be required to continue with weekly testing and wearing masks for the foreseeable future.

I also want to note that some vaccinated faculty and staff will likely choose to continue wearing masks, too, and are welcome to do so. I hope all of us will respect such choices and not make assumptions about why people are masked.

As we discussed the possibility of an employee policy, my colleagues and I considered many different viewpoints. We had a healthy diversity of views amongst ourselves, as we often do. We also asked managers to invite input from staff, and considered those perspectives alongside data from the recent faculty/staff survey and input from other comments and conversations.

Very broadly speaking, four points of view stood out from among the varied opinions in our multi-vocal community:

  • Many employees told us they saw a vaccine requirement as a straightforward, essential way to protect our community.
  • Others pointed to the high rate of vaccinations already achieved on campus and wondered whether a requirement would be likely to significantly change attitudes or behavior.
  • Some expressed concern about Williams as an employer creating rules related to employees’ health decisions.
  • Still others felt it was only fair to require a safety measure from faculty and staff that we’ve already announced we’re requiring for students.

After weighing scientific data and people’s perspectives, we decided a requirement would help faculty and staff as a whole feel meaningfully safer in campus workplaces. We also felt it was reasonable to ask everyone to make this commitment to the collective safety of a community we’re all part of and obligated to protect. As I’ve pointed out many times, none of us know which people around us might be medically ineligible for vaccination or at risk from the direct or collateral effects of serious illness. We were persuaded by research pointing to vaccination as a low-risk/high-impact measure for protecting both individual and public health.

This news comes during a hopeful moment after a long year. Covid rates are down steeply in Berkshire County and across much of the country. Vaccination has been a major factor in that positive trend. My colleagues and I will continue to watch the data, and if things take a negative turn we’ll announce protective measures as needed. But we certainly hope that won’t be necessary and that you’ll be able to return to the familiar pleasures of summer in the Berkshires.

In the meantime, thank you, as ever, for the remarkable job you’ve all done of keeping our people safe and our college functioning even in trying circumstances.