Consequences for unvaccinated CUNY students include academic withdrawal, loss of tuition

A protest took place at Hostos Community College in the Bronx on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, over fears that CUNY plans to withdraw unvaccinated students from classes without any tuition refund.
Photos Adrian Childress

Unvaccinated CUNY students face the possibility of academic withdrawal if they can’t produce proof of full COVID-19 vaccination status by Oct. 7, leaving many students ineligible to receive tuition refunds or have their financial aid jeopardized by failing to comply with the mandate.

Christina Vazquez, one of roughly 500 unvaccinated Hostos Community College — a school within the CUNY system — students who could be dropped by Oct. 7, told the Bronx Times she was under the impression that her vaccination status wasn’t going to affect her learning opportunities since she was taking a course load that was filled with hybrid and remote-only courses.

For the fall semester, which started on Aug. 25, a full course load for Hostos students who are New York residents tuition costs $2,400. For a four-year public university within the CUNY network, such as Lehman College, full-time students who are New York residents pay in the neighborhood of $3,465 per semester.

According to CUNY’s mandate, unvaccinated students currently enrolled in hybrid or in-person courses for the fall semester faced a deadline of Sept. 23 to receive the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and upload proof of vaccination to their campus app CUNYfirst by Sept. 27 in order to remain eligible to access CUNY campuses and facilities. Documentation of vaccinations must be approved and verified by CUNY officials by Oct. 7, and the process takes up to 10 days to approve. Those who fail to comply with CUNY’s policy will be forcibly withdrawn from classes, and are in jeopardy of losing their financial aid.

Hostos Action Committee members, comprised of CUNY faculty and employees, say that students could lose up to in financial aid and tuition dollars if they are dropped from their classes by the end of the week.

“Not once did any administrator, or person from the registrar’s office tell us that [COVID-19] testing wouldn’t be available,” Vazquez said. “They were happy to get us to cough up the money and now they’re going to probably to keep it.”

Campus action groups are calling out CUNY administrators for an “attempted money grab,” by not adequately communicating its vaccination mandate to students during registration for the fall semester.

This issue for CUNY employees and students protesting the policy on Wednesday in front of Hostos in the Grand Concourse section of the Bronx is not over vaccinations and safety. Instead, campus action groups are calling out CUNY administrators for an “attempted money grab,” by not adequately communicating its vaccination mandate to students during registration for the fall semester.

“It’s another week, another crisis by the CUNY administration,” said Aaron Botwick, a member of the Hostos Action Committee. “We believe in the vaccine mandate, but we believe that CUNY officials were not being honest brokers with students when they were registering for classes.”

In their vaccinate mandate, CUNY schools require that students who are unable to receive the vaccine must provide documentation for religious or medical exemptions, along with a negative COVID-19 test within seven days of an on-site visit.

Withdrawals from classes only occur, according to CUNY’s policies, if the student has an on-site class, which includes hybrid courses.

An estimated 55,000 students are enrolled in the city’s 25-campus public university system known as CUNY, which includes three Bronx schools Hostos Community College, Bronx Community College and Lehman College.

On May 10, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that once COVID-19 vaccines were fully federally approved, CUNY and SUNY students would be required to receive the vaccine to attend in-person classes this fall. In July, CUNY reported that 59% of its students were fully or partially vaccinated.

Initially, CUNY’s reopening plan for the in-person fall 2021 semester allowed for remote-only students to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test in order to visit campus, but the latest announcement mandates vaccinations. CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez announced in an email on Sept. 3 — more than a week after the fall semester had already begun — that testing will no longer be an option for unvaccinated students, even those taking remote-only courses who want to visit a CUNY campus, starting Oct. 7.

“I am amending the policy that permitted unvaccinated students to visit campuses if they showed proof of a negative COVID test,” Matos Rodriguez said. “Starting on Oct. 7, all students taking remote-only classes who wish to visit a campus at any point this fall for any reason must be fully vaccinated.”

Hostos faculty and students told the Bronx Times that outside of one blast email sent by administrators to students on Sept. 3, nearly a month after many registered for classes by August, they were not given a directive on the vaccine mandate.

In their vaccinate mandate, CUNY schools require that students who are unable to receive the vaccine must provide documentation for religious or medical exemptions, along with a negative COVID-19 test within seven days of an on-site visit.

“Sending one mass email is not an effective messaging tool, especially when students are not relying on that as their primary mode of communication,” said Joan Beckerman, a member of the Hostos Action Committee. “But it’s compounded when we realize that CUNY’s central communications office didn’t do more to inform students of their options and the consequences of the vaccination mandate until after they registered for their classes and paid for their courses.”

The last day for CUNY students to drop a class for a full tuition refund was on Aug. 24; and Aug. 31 for a 75% tuition reimbursement.

Student protestors from CUNY’s Queens College told the Times that CUNY forced professors to change their courses from online-only to hybrid and that faculty are allowed to be unvaccinated and get testing because of union intervention.
“The main concern is that dropping students from classes can cause students to lose financial aid, scholarships, their space in the honors college,” a spokesperson with a Queens College student group told the Times. “Additionally that students won’t be refunded the money they paid for these courses. There seems to be very little empathy for students.”
Hostos addressed the issue of vaccination status in a statement, but did not elaborate on inquiries from the Times’ regarding the topic of tuition refunds or the current fall semester.

“Hostos is working diligently to respond to student inquiries as it continues to follow established College and University protocol to maintain the health and safety of students, faculty and staff,” a Hostos College spokesperson said. “Throughout the pandemic, Hostos has deployed all available channels to keep the campus community informed. The College’s plans for reopening are continually revised as needed in accordance with CUNY, CDC and NYSDOH guidelines.”

CUNY employee union group Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY), a supporter of the vaccinate mandate, noted in their letter to Chancellor Rodriguez that CUNY students should receive tuition reimbursement if they are dropped from their fall courses.

“Moreover, CUNY should work with financial aid officers, the State, and the Higher Education Services Corporation to ensure that these students are held harmless with respect to their eligibility for financial aid,” the letter stated. “We are concerned that CUNY may keep the tuition of students who are withdrawn for non-compliance with today’s September 27 proof of vaccination deadline.”

That appears to be a very real possibility, according to Ariello Rodriguez, a Lehman College student, who said he has not been given a “clear answer” on if he’ll get his tuition money back if he’s dropped on Oct. 7.

“Look, I get it. I didn’t get vaccinated and there are consequences, including not being able to take classes this semester,” said Rodriguez, who said he is still unvaccinated. “But why should they keep my money when they lied to me during registration and I won’t be taking classes.”

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes. 

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