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MSU Senate Faculty Vote To Mandate Vaccine As Admin Claims ‘No Authority’ To Act

MSU cheerleaders are seen on field with fans in the football stadium behind them
Mississippi State University does not have the authority to issue a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Provost David Shaw claimed during a Sept. 10, 2021 MSU Faculty Senate meeting. He said that 56% of students and 77% of faculty report that they have received the COVID-19 vaccine voluntarily. Photo By Chamberlain Smith/Mississippi State Athletics

Mississippi State University is unlikely to implement a campus-wide vaccine mandate even after a majority of the institution’s Faculty Senate called on leaders to do so in a resolution they adopted during a meeting on Friday.

“Documentation of vaccinated and unvaccinated faculty, staff and students and mandatory testing of the unvaccinated runs counter to the guidance that we have been given to all of the Mississippi public institutions by a recent vote of the state college board, as does a vaccine mandate. As MSU has noted on multiple occasions, we do not possess the legal authority to implement a vaccine mandate,” MSU Provost David Shaw told the Faculty Senate at the start of the Sept. 10 meeting.

On Aug. 27, the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees, which oversees the state’s colleges and universities, voted against mandating COVID-19 vaccines. The two physicians on the IHL Board provided the only dissenting votes at that meeting after urging their fellow trustees to support a vaccine requirement. 

‘An Ongoing Question’

Molly Zuckerman, a faculty senator and biological anthropologist, said during the meeting that, among many on campus, “the IHL meeting was very destructive to feelings that faculty have their concerns understood and represented, including faculty governance at Mississippi State.”

MSU faculty senators challenged Shaw’s claim that the IHL vote precludes MSU from adopting a mandate on its own, though. Stephanie King, the Faculty Senate secretary, pointed to an Aug. 17, 2021, Mississippi Today report prior to the IHL’s vote against vaccine mandates that quoted IHL spokesperson Caron Blanton as saying the IHL vote “does not prohibit IHL institutions from imposing additional vaccination requirements.”

Shaw called it “an ongoing question,” saying that MSU President Mark E. Keenum had spoken with MSU and IHL legal counsel and that “it has been clarified to us that the interpretation is that we do not have the authority without board action on this topic.”

“There’s always this tension that’s going on,and that tension is greatly exacerbated right now because of the political environment that we’re in. And I, just earlier today, received something from a faculty member that was talking about the ‘toxicity’ of the vaccine,” Shaw said, referring to scientifically disproven myths about the vaccine’s safety. “And I had a conversation with a parent this past week who said, ‘I will withdraw my student if you can’t promise me that you will never require the vaccine.’ 

“And that’s the pull and tug that we find ourselves in as we go through this conversation and this debate is that what seems reasonable to one person seems completely unreasonable to another.”

Faculty Senate member Sol Pelaez disagreed with Shaw’s premise.

“But we are a university, a research one, and so we have to be on the side of science. In those terms, there is no discussion about that. COVID is much more dangerous, kills much more people, immensely more people, than the people who have been affected adversely by that vaccine,” she said. “And that’s science. That’s not an opinion I have. That’s science.

“Why not, to go to a game, have proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test? Those are the steps for me that the university is not doing. If you want to live in the dorms, you have to have proof of vaccination or be tested randomly. Why these kinds of things that are not the extreme of the mandate but also not just the minimum? Why are these things not being done?”

But Shaw maintained that there were two sides to the issue.

“Again, your definition of minimum and other people’s definition of minimum probably is different,” Shaw replied. “… The university finds itself in a situation trying to find, and visiting with the medical community here in our state, trying to find a middle ground that is safe as we can reasonably expect.”

Faculty Senate Adopts Mandate Resolution 20-to-15

Despite the administration’s claim that it has no authority to mandate the vaccine, faculty leaders forged ahead with the vote anyway, adopting the vaccine mandate resolution in a 20-to-15 vote.

“Be it resolved that the Faculty Senate of the Mississippi State University calls on the administration of the aforementioned University in an emergency capacity to formally petition the Institutions of Higher Learning’s Board of Trustees of the state of Mississippi to initiate a university-wide vaccine mandate for all faculty, students, and staff, not to include those with legally acceptable and documented exceptions,” the resolution reads.

During his remarks, Shaw revealed that 56% of MSU students and 77% of employees surveyed said they had been vaccinated for COVID-19.

“All of the efforts you are making to make sure everyone does receive the vaccine and protect themselves are really paying off,” Shaw said.

Mississippi State University provides COVID-19 vaccine pop-up clinics on campus where students and faculty can recieve the vaccine for free.

Before Friday’s vote at the Starkville campus, the University of Mississippi Faculty Senate similarly voted 54-to-6 on a resolution calling on the Oxford university’s leaders to instate a COVID vaccine mandate there. The UM administration has since taken no action.

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