June 23, 2021

Dear William Paterson Community,

After much consideration, I have decided that all students who will be returning to campus in the fall will be required to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. This includes all residential and commuter students, undergraduate and graduate. The only exceptions will be those students who are enrolled in WP Online programs, which involve no on-campus instruction, activities, or services, and those who qualify under New Jersey law for medical or religious exemptions.

“In the further interest of the health of our community and equity among our various constituencies, all employees who are not covered by a collective bargaining unit will also be required to be vaccinated. We will begin negotiating with the various unions representing campus employees with the goal of extending the requirement to all William Paterson faculty and staff, and I ask that all of you please, for the good of the community, get yourselves vaccinated. Those of you who are not vaccinated will need to wear face masks indoors and keep your distance from others. 

This was not an easy decision, but I am confident that it is the right one. Because my initial position was that William Paterson would not require our students, faculty, and staff to be vaccinated, I want to explain the important developments over the past couple of months that have led to this change. First, as you may be reading in the news, health officials believe that the highly-contagious Delta variant of the virus will soon be the dominant strain in the U.S., and people in their early 20s seem to be particularly vulnerable to contracting and spreading it. Also, other variants are likely to surface and, so far, vaccinations have proven effective against new strains. Second, hospitalizations for Covid predominantly involve unvaccinated people. Third, there are academic departments and student activities, such as the performing arts and athletics, where vaccination is critical to participation. Again, in the interest of equity, if some students are required to be vaccinated, it is only fair that all students be vaccinated. And finally, in a survey of the William Paterson community, a majority of respondents indicated that they would feel safer on campus with a vaccine requirement.

I continue to be mindful of the historic inequities in the U.S. healthcare system and of the mistreatment and abuse that minority groups, Black people in particular, have suffered. As a result, I know that many people may be reluctant to get the Covid vaccine. While I have been a staunch personal advocate of getting vaccinated, I have been reluctant to make it a University-wide requirement for our community. However, I have also said all along that we will follow the science. Given the emergence of the new, more contagious Delta variant and the successful rollout of the Covid vaccine program over the past several months – especially in our region, the current science has led me to this position. I also wanted to wait and see if the data showed  that any particular demographic has demonstrated statistically significant adverse reactions to the vaccines. To my knowledge, none have been indicated by the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

I know that many of you will have questions about how the verification process will work and how those in need can most easily get the vaccine. We have worked successfully with the New Jersey Immunization Information System (NJIIS). This means that for anyone who was vaccinated in New Jersey and did not opt out of NJIIS, we will likely be able to obtain your vaccine information, so you won’t have to worry about providing it to us. You will receive additional information on these and related matters from Dr. Jill Guzman, Director of the Counseling, Health, and Wellness Center, by email next week. In the meantime, if you haven’t already been vaccinated, please do so as soon as possible. We will be offering vaccination clinics on campus, details of which will be announced soon. As always, you can locate a vaccination site near you by going to 

Please know that I have thought long and hard about this decision and consulted with internal and external experts. Ultimately, I believe that requiring as many members of our community as we can to be vaccinated is the right thing to do in the interest of the health of our University community and the broader public. Doing what’s right in terms of our health will also allow us to better fulfill our educational mission. A comparison of 2019-2020, when our freshman had face-to-face instruction until March, with 2020-2021, when much of their work was online, shows a significant drop in freshmen retention. As this drop demonstrates, we must take all available precautions so that we can return to the kind of engaging, face-to-face instruction and support that our faculty and staff do so well and which allows more of our students to succeed. Getting our community fully vaccinated will help enable a safe and successful return and allow us to complete the semester on campus in the fall. 

I can’t wait to see you all then. In the meantime, have a safe and enjoyable summer.

Richard J. Helldobler, Ph.D.