Texas A&M, Penn State take action against those who fail to get COVID-19 tests

The universities warn students, employees that noncompliance may result in significant sanctions.
By: | September 23, 2021
Photo courtesy of Duke University

In the three weeks of Texas A&M University’s mandatory testing program for students returning to campus this fall, it conducted nearly 80,000 screenings for COVID-19. Around 3,300 came back positive—or roughly 4.2%.

The number of cases is not insignificant, but it does show that even on a campus with no mask or vaccine mandates, an institution can work hard to protect its community. Part of that commitment means ensuring compliance when a directive is issued. This week, university officials said they would pursue potential sanctions against students “who did not receive an exemption from testing and failed to show up after multiple email notifications.”

In a letter to its community on Aug. 22 before the start of the fall semester, Texas A&M noted: “Students reported for failing to comply with the mandatory COVID-19 reporting and/or quarantine/isolation requirements will be referred to the Student Conduct Process. This may result in a student facing possible separation (i.e., suspension or expulsion) from the university or being considered a student not in good standing.”

It also could mean other penalties for students, including the inability to hold positions in organizations recognized by the university or be ineligible “to represent the university at official function, intercollegiate athletics or representation both on and off campus.” Faculty members and staffers who don’t comply could receive written warnings, the potential loss of merit increases and perhaps “be subject to other, more severe, disciplinary action.”

Texas A&M is not the only university facing issues with compliance. Penn State University, which has a weekly testing mandate for unvaccinated individuals, has suspended 117 students for skipping out on three weeks of testing. Those students who are living on campus have been removed from residence halls, and the group has had other privileges revoked, including attending university events. They could face separation, according to terms of a policy sent to students in August. Unvaccinated faculty members who also fail to get tested could be subject to termination.

“It’s important that both students and employees comply with our testing requirement, and we have done everything we reasonably can to ensure that these students are aware of their obligation and do what they must to honor it,” said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs at Penn State. “The last thing we want is to suspend them. I’m sorry these students did not follow our repeated admonitions and warnings, and I hope they will make the correction necessary. Others should not repeat their mistake.”

Pressing for compliance in Pennsylvania is far different than in Texas.

Blocked by bans on vaccine and mask mandates by Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order, testing is one of the many weapons Texas A&M has been promoting to keep students in classes and campus safe during the pandemic. Another is not only encouraging vaccinations but providing four sites on campus to get them done, including three pop-up venues. There also are massive incentives for those who do, including five $14,500 scholarships for students and football flex packs for employees—a great perk since the No. 7 Aggies are 3-0 and A&M has one of the best venues in the nation to watch a game. Texas A&M notes that 18,000 of its 64,000 students are eligible to win those prizes, so incentives have piqued interest.

Messaging through a variety of channels has been a critical part of the strategies of universities with and without requirements. Both universities continue to press populations to get vaccinations and wear facial coverings in areas on campus where distancing can’t occur.

Around the nation

Iowa: Ashley Hudson, a 21-year-old education student at Mount Mercy University who had dreams of becoming a kindergarten teacher, died of complications from COVID-19 earlier this week. “With a campus as tight-knit as ours, losing a member of our community—especially a student—is deeply painful,” President Todd Olson wrote in a statement to the community.