UCI Fires Unvaccinated Professor As Students Return To Campus

IRVINE, CA — Students of the University of California Irvine campus headed back to school on Monday, although classes will take place online for at least two weeks, the school says. That day, the school also acknowledged firing the School of Medicine Director of the Medical Ethics Program, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty for his refusal to be vaccinated.

Though some students chose to remain at home, many arrived back to campus housing over the weekend.

Kelly Shire of Temecula dropped her daughter, Lily, off at student apartment housing over the New Year's weekend. According to Shire, the apartment area was bustling with returning students. She is confident with the protocols UCI has put into place and its plans for strict adherence to vaccine policies.

Shire said the university's vaccine mandate eased her mind about the risks of coronavirus on the campus.

"After all, all students and staff had to show proof of vaccination at the start of the school year," Shire said. "We're very hopeful that things will be as normal as possible for her and other UC students soon."

California universities mandated vaccines for all students, workers, and faculty to return to school in August 2021. UCI is sticking by the vaccination protocols and their newly added testing regimen: a daily symptom checker, testing right away upon returning to campus and getting a vaccine booster as soon as possible. Students who are unvaccinated with approved exemptions and live on campus still need to test weekly.

"Working together, each of us doing our part, we can move UCI Forward," they wrote on their return to campus instructions.

UC Irvine is among the California universities that switched to online learning to start the winter session. The decision was based upon the anticipated surge of the coronavirus Omicron variant cases and the number of students known to be traveling over the holidays, a release from the university states.

Even though the university ensures all staff, faculty and students are vaccinated to be on campus. They are not taking any chances.

"As we expected, COVID-19 did not take a break during the winter recess," a spokesperson for UCI wrote in a recent release. "Over the last three weeks, nearly as many members of our community have tested positive for the virus than in the entire 10-week fall quarter. Orange County and other regions throughout the world are experiencing similar increases."

The online portion was anticipated to last between January 3 and 14, giving the school time to "properly assess our environment through testing, sequestration and retesting."

The UC Irvine website outlines the school's renewed processes regarding testing, symptom checking, and keeping up with student and faculty health.

"While instruction will be remote during this period, the campus will remain fully operational, with the same staffing policies we have followed for the past few months," UC Chancellor Howard Gillman said. "There likely will be adjustments in rules about in-person dining and the organization of larger events for the first few weeks of the quarter. Deans and unit heads are currently reviewing activities scheduled for January and will communicate any changes."

Kehriaty, the professor fired for refusing to be vaccinated, taught psychiatry and human behavior at the medical school and directed the school's medical ethics program. He told the LA Times that he believed he had a "natural immunity" after being exposed to coronavirus and is not anti-vaccine but "'pro' let the person decide."

Still, his release is a distraction as students logged on for the first time since the holiday break.

Getting back on campus was at the forefront of students' minds, even if the classwork would be virtual.

As for the university, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Hal Stern and others write that the university has worked together as a community to support our friends, neighbors and colleagues throughout the pandemic.

"This admirable spirit of 'we're in this together' played a vital role in keeping our infection rates consistently lower than those of the surrounding region," he writes. "Thank you for your diligence, consideration and cooperation during this extraordinary period. We encourage you to continue these efforts in the weeks ahead."

This article originally appeared on the Lake Forest Patch