Walmart is smarter and more responsible than my university

It’s true. Walmart and Disney are requiring vaccinations.

“The pandemic is not over, and the delta variant has led to an increase in infection rates across much of the U.S.,” Walmart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said in a memo Friday. “We have made the decision to require all campus office associates and all market, regional and divisional associates who work in multiple facilities to be vaccinated by Oct. 4, unless they have an approved exception.”

Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota is half-assing it.

The university is not requiring vaccinations. The reason? “The state of Minnesota’s law concerning requiring vaccination has a broad exemption clause that includes people willing to provide a notarized statement that they have conscientiously held beliefs against vaccination.” Right. All you have to do is say you don’t believe in vaccinations in front of a notary, and you’re exempt. It’s not as if we could say that’s fine, no jab, no classes…oh, wait, we could.

They also say, “As the situation evolves, a mandate may be considered.” OK then, the situation has evolved, consider it. Consider it right fucking now.

They’ve also dropped the face-mask requirement. “If you are fully vaccinated, no masks are required in any University building, venue, or outdoors.” But if you’re not vaccinated, “the University expects you to wear a mask indoors”. Can we ask if students are vaccinated? No, of course not.

No one (other than myself and a few others) are wearing masks on campus. Classes start in less than a month — perhaps more importantly, student parties and the bar scene start up in less than a month, with a significant fraction of the student body unvaccinated and flaunting the perceived immortality of youth. Yet if you poll the students, they’ve got concerns.

I’ve got concerns. I’ve been told I must teach an in-person class in the fall; I’ve asked the university administration if I can at least require masks in my classes, and have only heard silence.

I’ve written to both the president of the University of Minnesota warning them that they’re failing to meet their responsibilities, and to the chancellor of my campus to let them know that they’re compromising the safety of students and staff. There has been no response.

I’m just saying, if you send your child to the university, and they come down with a serious, debilitating illness (or worse), and you’ve got a lawyer looking for witnesses who told the university administrators in advance that their policies were inadequate and dangerous, well, you’ve got my name. But let’s all hope it doesn’t come to that.


  1. Bruce says

    I’d tell my students on day one: we can’t require you to be vaccinated or wear masks. But on the other hand, this is a biology class, and I have to give you a grade based on your understanding of biology. And those who understand even a little biology are all choosing to be vaccinated AND to wear a mask indoors. And I will be observing and listening to each of you every day. And I will be tempted to avoid people who put my freaking life at risk for no sane reason. We don’t discuss politics in here, but I’m sure each of you now knows my opinions on biology and epidemiology. Over this semester, we will also cover the actual meaning of phrases such as “do research”. In short, I’m the only one in this room who has done research yet, no matter how long you have spent reading blogs and fakebook posts. I urge everyone to be fully vaccinated and to wear a mask. If you can’t figure out what I’m saying, one of the other students in this room can likely explain what to do. And here are the easy places to get vaccinated in Morris.

  2. whheydt says

    Both the Universty of California system and the California State University (formerly, California State College) system are requiring students faculty and staff to be vaccinated.

    An upcoming gaming convention (Pacificon) has the following on their web page:

    PacCon 2021 Updates:

    Updated July 21, 2021. Mask protocol has been changed from recommended to strongly recommended. (Note that this may change again for the reasons stated below.)

    The latest update to our Covid Care Protocols (CCP) as of June 25, 2021 will allow the eating of food and drinking of beverages at the gaming tables. Also, cash food sales will be available at mealtimes from the hotel.
    And as a reminder, we updated the CCP as of June 16, 2021 following the change in California’s recommendations. Attendees will be required to provide proof of vaccination (and have finished the final shot no later than August 20, 2021), and masks will be recommended indoors. We are also cautiously raising the attendance cap for the event.

    Not to be harsh, but there will be no exceptions to this, in the interest of public health and safety. We understand their may be various legitimate reasons, or personal choices, for not getting vaccinated. We respect your right to make that choice for yourself, and will not inquire as to why, but considering the group as a whole, we are going to strive to make the event as safe as we possibly can this year. So, for this year’s show, it is recommended for folks to wear masks indoors during the event, and to provide proof of being two weeks out from your completed vaccination series.

    So…if a small, local, gaming convention can do this, what is stopping UMM?

  3. garnetstar says

    PZ, that you’re laying the basis for a successful lawsuit is, in fact, probably the only thing that will make your university listen.

    There is a thing in law called “constructive notice”, where you send in that this dangerous situation exists, and say that that consists of “constructive notice” of the danger. That means, “You have been warned”, they have been legally made aware of the danger and they cannot plead ignorance if they let it persist.

    A friend of mine, a paralegal, would add the following to, in this case, your letters: “This letter consists of constructive notice of (the dangerous situation). Because I am not a lawyer, I cannot tell you what “constructive notice” is. So I strongly encourage you to consult a lawyer as to the meaning of that term.”

    That might sound scary enough to them.

    They at least must let you require that students be masked, and that no student is allowed to approach you. Or, that class will be cancelled for two weeks to quarantine every time someone tests positive.

  4. garnetstar says

    Another route is to make is so inconvenient for the students not to wear a mask that they do it. Like, all unmasked students have to sit against the back wall of the room, the masked ones closer to the front. Or something.

  5. kome says

    Does your university allow you to impose additional dress code requirements for your classes/labs? Like, you’re allowed to require safety glasses and gloves and closed-toed shows and stuff before students are allowed to participate? If so, require masks for your classes under the same justification. It’s for safety reasons.

  6. Jean says

    Are you going to have office hours? If so, can you require people to wear a mask and show a proof of vaccination before they enter your office?

  7. Jean says

    Also, a CO2 sensor would also be a good way to make sure there is sufficient ventilation. That’s another thing the university should be doing: installing one in each class, lab and office.

  8. raven says

    I just did a Google search to find out how many colleges and universities are requiring vaccination for the Fall term.
    It’s a lot, both private colleges and public universities.

    It also falls along the Red state versus Blue state line.
    It’s high in Blue states and the Red states aren’t even on the list.
    The Fall isn’t looking too good here for anyone who wants this pandemic to be over with and have a normal life again.
    It’s also setting up the Red states to once again be the leaders in Covid-19 virus sickness, death, and permanent disability.

  9. raven says

    As Virus Cases Rise, Another Contagion Spreads Among the vaccinated: anger … › 2021/07/27 › health › corona…

    1 day ago — Frustrated by the prospect of a new surge, many Americans are blaming the unvaccinated. A tougher stance may backfire, some experts warn.

    A lot of vaccinated Americans are getting fed up with the antivaxxers.

    They are holding our economy back. They are putting tens of millions of people who can’t be vaccinated such that they are immune to the Covid-19 virus at risk (organ transplant recipients, autoimmune, old, cancer patients etc..), putting children at risk since they aren’t right now even eligible for the vaccine, and last but not least, keeping this pandemic going long after it could have ended.

  10. says

    Walmart and Disney have two things U of M doesn’t:

    A battery of lawyers with which they very often delay legal challenges against them until the other side runs out of money and gives up
    A source of funding which is not dependent on state and federal governments which have passed laws permitting people to claim religious beliefs to override science

    As things currently stand, the minute anybody sues over being forced to wear a mask or get vaccinated, any state school which has made the requirement will lose. If they lose the court case, they lose — they no longer have any authority whatsoever to require things like that, period. If they win the court case, though, they still lose, because the anti-mask anti-vax brigade will all go out and vote Republicans into state office (whether they can manage it at the federal level or not) and specifically target the state school in every way possible. Waste of space though most college administrators are, they know this. Their one proven skill is political manipulation.

    As it happens, and as somebody has pointed out up above, the only hope you (and the rest of us) have is what you are explicitly trying to set up — somebody comes to campus, gets horribly sick with long-term complications or even death, they (or their family) sues the school for ignoring the advice of medical authorities (and biologists), and — this is the critical bit — the court sides with them.

    You know that saying about how every safety regulation, no matter how obvious it may seem, is written in the blood of somebody who didn’t follow it? This is the dark side of that. Thanks to decades of coddling religious idiots in law — and before people rush to yell about Republicans, the Hobby Lobby decision which is the most immediate basis for all this nonsense was based on a law championed by Democrats, not Republicans — if there’s going to be an enforceable safety regulation, there has to be suitable blood to write it in, and the more-than-half-million already dead in this country didn’t die in the right way for it.

  11. birgerjohansson says

    Can you not at least require that the students sitting at the front row must wear masks? The careless and stupid can sit everywhere else. Also, students who want to be huffing glue must sit furthest back.

  12. charles says

    Your neighbor to the south has passed a law forbiding schools from requiring masks. I’m thinking of running away from home.

  13. chris61 says

    My school has removed its mask mandate for those who are vaccinated but I’ve noticed, in my building at least, most people are still wearing them.

  14. says

    Four years of Trump and we get a pile of appointees who are unqualified.
    Elect Joe Biden.
    Biden can’t shit can all these morons without being accused of committing a “purge”.
    They stay in power and do whatever they can wreck Biden’s presidency.
    That’s how I see it.

  15. OptimalCynic says

    “Yet if you poll the students, they’ve got concerns.”

    Revealed preferences strike again

  16. says

    @#17, John Morales:

    That’s a “how many divisions does the Pope have?” thing. Even if there are no regulations which would hinder the law school from defending the University of Minnesota (hint: there almost certainly are — I happen to know that Minnesota has regulations to prevent state-funded schools which provide services from competing with private industry, for one thing, and since the U of M can afford to hire lawyers that means that it probably can’t ask the law school to provide service pro bono) the law professors have their own jobs to do and can’t be employed to make legal challengers endlessly jump through hoops and spin their wheels like Walmart and Disney’s lawyers are employed to do.

  17. John Morales says

    Vicar, I’m certainly no expert, but even if they can’t litigate, they can certainly advise.

  18. garnetstar says

    Remember, you don’t have to actually file a lawsuit. You just need to frighten the admin, or at least be a hassle to them. Make it easier for them to do what you’re asking, just for your classes only, not for the whole college, than it is to listen to you anymore. (This works with internet providers and cable companies too.) Try your department head, who will be much more likely to quietly allow you to impose restrictions without telling anyone. Go on strike: no faculty or committee meetings until the head allows that.

    Pretending that you’ll alert the national or state media (after all, you have quite a large platform) is also a way to hassle them into sighing and letting you do things that aren’t official policy, as long as you don’t tell all the other professors.

    And, having all the students in your classes (or as many other classes as you can) email the department head and the dean, or whomever, at their personal addresses, complaining and demanding that they need at least to masked (only in your classes, if you like), works well. And, ask them to get their parents to write to the same addresses, asking why they’re paying all that money to have their kids and their professor get ill. (This worked better for me, because often I had 625 students, and no one wants that many complaints in their inbox.)

    My nephew’s college isn’t requiring vaccinations. “Oh no, we would never impose on students’ rights like that!”

    Instead, they’ve established, and sent to all the students already, a huge number of tedious, time-consuming requirements that students have to do every day if they haven’t presented proof of vax to the university. They’re so tedious and hassling that students will throw in the towel and get shots to just get out of them.

    Worked with my nephew. Try to establish things like that in your classes, that all the students have to do, until they show you their vax cards.

    And, hold all office hours remotely only for anyone who can’t show you proof of vax at the door and is masked, too. Having them in your office is a really dangerous situation. Tell the students to write, as above, and mention how much they’re paying and why isn’t the college doing their duty?

    I’ve been at this game a long time. Things like the above don’t make you popular, but they do work.

  19. garnetstar says

    Sorry to go on about nasty power plays, but another thing to do is to play the “disability” card. Say that you have an underlying condition (no need to specify anything) and will be lodging a complaint with the disabilities office about denial of accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Of course this is nonsense, but it’s another hassle for them. You could actually write the complaint and send it to the admin first, not actually send it to the disabilities office.

    Get an MD (any doctor will do, it could be a psychiatrist for all it matters) to write a letter on their letterhead (leave off their specialty) that you have an underlying condition (do not specify) that makes it a danger to your life to teach unmasked, unvaxx students. Have the letter say that even breakthrough infection would pose a risk to your health and life. That you would not recover quickly: it might be weeks that you’d be out and they’d have to get a subsitute to teach your classes. Take the letter first to your department head, then you can send it to the admin to the admin if needed.

    Exaggeration, not outright lying, works the best. Be creative: this isn’t testimony under oath. It’s a power play, just like they are trying to do to you. So, pull out your inner Tywin Lannister.

  20. garnetstar says

    Once more, sorry that I’m going on and on, but this is your health at stake, and they are being completely careless and irresponsible.

    The nuclear option is to schedule in-person meetings with first your dept. head, then the dean, then on up, tell them about your unspecified underlying condition, and ask them to tell you why they making you work in an unsafe workplace.

    The key is, as you walk in and sit down, take out your phone and turn on audio recording (or pretend to), then put it down on their desk and say “I’m recording this meeting.” The low-tech way to do this is to bring a colleague or any adult to sit in and take notes on the meeting to memorialize their lame excuses. See how that worked out for Trump?:):)

    So that they think you are gathering documentation. People are far too cowardly to not capitulate to that.

  21. says

    @#19, John Morales

    Vicar, I’m certainly no expert, but even if they can’t litigate, they can certainly advise.

    You didn’t read the rest of my original post — to the U of M, if they are sued, it doesn’t matter whether they win or lose in court, they are still screwed. The benefit of having a huge battery of lawyers who will be paid regardless of whether they’re doing anything or not (which Disney and Walmart and Exxon and Microsoft and Google and every other major company has, but which state schools do not) is that you can engage in delaying tactics until people get bored or run out of money and just go away (or settle out of court). (Exxon is a really great example of how this works: they were ordered to pay a massive fine for the Valdez oil spill, but then had their lawyers use every delaying tactic possible to delay the date on which the money had to be handed over, which took over a decade IIRC, and the combination of inflation and the interest on the funds which they had set aside to meet the fine had basically wiped out the hit to the company’s finances which the fine was intended to represent. Since they were paying the lawyers anyway, regardless of whether they went to court or not, it cost them basically nothing to do this!)

    If U of M requires masks or vaccinations, the person who inevitably sues them over “religious freedom” is going to be crowdfunded by right-wing nutjobs (and, incidentally, right-wing 1%ers) and it will actually be in their (the right-wingers) favor to drag things out, appeal repeatedly, and rack up the expenses for the defendant. Although it is not good for the U of M for students to be harmed, in terms of the standing of preventive measures it is far better for them to be sued by somebody who was harmed by a lack of restrictions… provided, of course, that the university then loses in court, or at least publicly agrees that they have to tighten up restrictions as part of a settlement.

  22. John Morales says


    You didn’t read the rest of my original post

    Of course I did. I think you’re wrong, that’s all.

    The benefit of having a huge battery of lawyers

    Heh. Are you applying the dictum “quantity has a quality of its own”?

    One needs enough, but more than that is superfluous.

    If U of M requires masks or vaccinations, the person who inevitably sues them over “religious freedom” is going to be crowdfunded by right-wing nutjobs

    That would apply to any other public university in the USA, no?

    And it’s not like UMN doesn’t have resources: “The University of Minnesota’s annual operating budget for fiscal year 2020 is $4.2 Billion.”

  23. Jack says

    “The state of Minnesota’s law concerning requiring vaccination has a broad exemption clause that includes people willing to provide a notarized statement that they have conscientiously held beliefs against vaccination.”

    so…. they could make people get vaccinated unless they make a formal conscientious objection, but they’re not going to?

    it doesn’t matter that there’s a legal way to dodge it, it doesn’t matter that it’s hard to enforce — making it a requirement will still make a difference.

  24. leerudolph says

    birgerjohansson@11: “Also, students who want to be huffing glue must sit furthest back.”

    Perhaps, like Trump’s brilliant insight about “putting the light inside”, glue-huffing might prevent COVID. Then wouldn’t your cheap cynicism look bad, hmmm?

  25. rrhain says

    Just to clarify, Walmart’s requirement only applies to headquarters and management that travels.

    The front-line workers, the cashiers, the janitorial staff, everybody else, it doesn’t apply to them.

  26. whheydt says

    Slightly off topic, but one of the best semi-related articles I’ve seen in a while:

    The money quote:

    Canada has fined two travellers arriving from the US who, officials say, forged Covid-19 testing and vaccination documents.

    Each was fined C$19,720 ($16,000, £11,500) after inspectors at the Toronto airport found their vaccine cards and proof of testing were fake.

  27. birgerjohansson says

    leerudolph @ 27
    The way I see it, exposing your fellow students to being infected by covid and huffing glue are at the same “Goddammit, you are stupid” level.