We are professors at the University of Maine in Orono, where we teach classes and mentor students. We lead research groups examining topics like biodiversity, extinction, and climate change (Jacquelyn) and the opioid epidemic and public policy (Robert). We strive to give students hands-on, real-world experiences, where they learn skills to prepare for the workforce and address tangible problems facing our society and our world.

We are excited to return to campus for the upcoming semester, but the COVID-19 delta variant puts that return at risk. To ensure a safe return, the UMaine System must mandate vaccination for all faculty, students and staff who are able to get it.

Abruptly pivoting to online teaching in March 2020 was hard on all of us — students, staff, and faculty alike. We deeply missed face-to-face interactions and hands-on work in our labs and our communities. We longed to be spending time working alongside our students, and gathering together on campus to share our questions, our knowledge, and our excitement about our areas of study. The toll on our wellbeing, mental health, and our collective experience cannot be overstated.

Yet, earlier this year, as vaccination rates increased and COVID-19 numbers fell, the UMaine System prepared for a return to the in-person teaching and learning that we have all sorely missed. And yet, the looming threat of the highly transmissible delta variant is deeply concerning, for several reasons.

First, the federal CDC has recently reported that the delta variant is more infectious than chicken pox or the common cold — much higher than previous versions, making it far easier to spread in a packed classroom, dorm, gym, or dining hall. Secondly, the CDC has warned that even vaccinated, asymptomatic people can shed enough virus to make others sick without realizing it. And thirdly, we know the variant is making young, college-aged people – the cohort of adults with the lowest vaccination rates in the country — much sicker than before.

The things that make UMaine campuses such great places to learn also make us vulnerable. The coronavirus spreads best when we spend time together: in conversation in class or a residence hall, or as spectators at an arts or sporting event. These are all of the things that must be protected this fall, as they are the lifeblood of the campus experience. So how do we balance this against the risks?


Fortunately, widespread vaccine availability and masking offer proven methods to reduce the spread and severity of COVID-19 infections. These are our best tools to protect ourselves and one another as we return to valuable in-person learning, all while being good citizens of the campuses of UMaine and the communities in which we live.

Importantly, the University of Maine System is not a chain of isolated islands in an empty ocean; we are part of the communities that support and surround our campuses. Students, staff, and faculty have children who attend schools and daycares. Our families support, and even work at, local businesses, restaurants, and places of worship. By not requiring vaccines, the highly contagious Delta variant can infect our unvaccinated children and our vulnerable neighbors.

Many peer institutions across the country have required vaccines and masks as we return to campus this fall. Yet, despite our state motto “Dirigo” — I lead — we are lagging behind. No one wants to return to Zoom classrooms and shuttered buildings this fall, or make a last-minute, chaotic scramble as we react to outbreaks that could have been prevented.

The science is clear: vaccines and masks work. These are our best tools for a return to normalcy, and to keep students, faculty and staff — and our communities — safe across the state.

We urge UMaine System Chancellor Malloy to take additional steps to ensure public safety by requiring vaccines and masks as we return to our campuses this fall.

Jacquelyn Gill is an associate professor of paleoecology & plant ecology in the School of Biology and Ecology and Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. Robert W. Glover is an associate professor of political science & honors at the University of Maine. This column reflects their views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of the university. Glover is the co-director of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear here monthly.

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