Politicians and bureaucrats have decided that they can wave a magic “COVID” wand and make constitutional rights disappear. College students have been among those hit hardest by the edicts. Many students have been forced to choose between medical choice and privacy and their continued education.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) required students to take a COVID test every two weeks and have their medical results loaded to a third-party app on their smart phones. Many parents and students took exception with the requirements, penalties, and enforcement mechanisms. Students who refused the mandatory testing and app were denied access to classes, dorms, and meals for which they had already paid.
The American Constitutional Rights Union worked with UNL students who did not wish to be subjected to forced testing or an invasion of medical privacy. In our open letter to the Chancellor we defended the rights of the students. But the university’s extortion plan worked. Students were provided a form to fill out to waive their rights. If they did not sign it, they would not be able to attend classes or even enter dining halls to eat.
Students now face a new power play: mandatory vaccine requirements. Many colleges and universities are announcing mandatory vaccinations for the fall and they are conveniently announcing them after students have registered and paid for their classes. Such is the case with Rutgers, where students are fighting for medical choice and privacy in the wake of the university’s announcement on mandatory vaccinations for the fall term.
Sara Razi, a junior at Rutgers, is fighting for the right to make her own medical decisions. She is a student leader with Young Americans for Liberty who is working with other students in New Jersey to fight for their rights. They are holding a rally on May 21.
"Vaccines should be voluntary, not forced. My education should not be restricted based on my personal decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Vaccinations are a personal and a private choice and students should have the right to choose whether or not they want to take a vaccine…especially one that does not have a long track record,” said Razi.
Given the documented recovery rates of young people with COVID, it appears that the health of students is not the driving force behind university decisions. It could be power. But it is likely money. Countless colleges and universities face financial challenges resulting from overinflated compensation plans of college administrators and the high cost of salaries for tenured professors. To cover their fiscal irresponsibility, they rely on federal funding.
Schools are working to comply with the latest requirements for federal funding. The 2021 American Rescue Plan provided $40 billion to higher learning institutions with the condition that a portion of funds be spent to “implement evidence-based practices to monitor and suppress coronavirus in accordance with public health guidelines.” While mandatory vaccinations and tracking were not required as a condition of funding, they are an easy way for a school to “check the prevention box” and keep that new money flowing.
Many schools do not tell students of their plans until registration and payment have occurred. Across 39 states, just over 100 schools have disclosed their intention to require COVID-19 vaccinations when students return in the Fall. The rest are playing a “wait and see” game they know they will win. By delaying vaccine announcements, colleges do not have to answer questions from parents, including how they can justify requiring a vaccination that has yet to receive full FDA approval. For instance, University of Virginia and Virginia Tech are conveniently waiting to announce their fall plans until the end of May.
Universities make it difficult to recoup funds outlaid for tuition and fees. They know that the longer they wait to announce their vaccine mandate and corresponding student tracking apps, the fewer options will exist for students who seek to transfer.
As the American Constitutional Rights Union has worked with students across the nation, such as the University of Nebraska and Rutgers, we have noticed that many students have done their homework and have made a personal medical decision to pass on the vaccine. It remains to be seen whether their parents and university bureaucrats will respect their freedom of choice.
It appears that the “my body, my choice” mantra heard on college campuses for decades has suddenly disappeared with the wave of the COVID wand.” Forces are aligning to eradicate medical choice and privacy.
Freedom or future? These young people should not be forced to choose.
Lori Roman is the president of the American Constitutional Rights Union and ACRU Action Fund.