The Mississippi Institutes of Higher Learning quietly voted to prohibit all public colleges and universities from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine, with exceptions. In the meeting, which took place Friday, Sept. 17, the board voted to amend a previous statement they made and ban universities from mandating the vaccine outright.
On Aug. 27, IHL voted not to mandate vaccines for universities. However, the board fell short of explicitly directing higher education institutions not to mandate the vaccine.
“The Board of Trustees strongly recommends all eligible students and employees within the university system get vaccinated against COVID-19,” said J. Walt Starr, president of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning in a statement on IHL’s website. “…the Board does not deem it prudent to require it as a condition of employment or enrollment, except at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and other clinical settings.”
The board convened on Sept. 17 and voted to amend their Aug. 27 decision, clarifying any confusion.
“The individual universities have been prohibited by the board from implementing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate as a condition of employment or enrollment except for clinical settings,” Caron Blanton, IHL spokesperson, told The Daily Mississipppian.
Currently, only the University of Mississippi Medical Center has a vaccine mandate in place. All institutions under IHL have a mask mandate in place.
“The Board, at its retreat/meeting on Friday, September 17, clarified any confusion around the August 27, 2021 vaccine related motion by voting to rescind such August 27, 2021 motion and by approving the following: except for clinical settings within institutions, centers, departments, and programs, institutions are directed to refrain from mandating the COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of enrollment or employment,” said Blanton.
The decision came after weeks of contention on the University of Mississippi campus regarding the vaccine — both the faculty and Associated Student Body senates passed formal resolutions calling on the university to mandate the vaccine for the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.
Faculty senate chair for the 2021-2022 school year, Daniel Durkin, shared the faculty senate’s disappointment about the board’s decision.
“The faculty senate is disappointed that the IHL voted to prohibit colleges and universities from implementing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, especially because the physicians on the board did not support the prohibition,” he said.
All present voting members on the IHL board of trustees voted to pass the amendment, with the exception of trustee and physician Dr. Steven Cunningham, diagnostic radiologist.
“The Senate feels strongly that a vaccine mandate is the best way forward to be able to maintain face-to-face classes and other aspects of campus life,” Durkin continued. “We also feel that we have a responsibility to the the City of Oxford and Lafayette County to take extra precautions when the local health care system is strained. We will consider next steps in the coming weeks to address this new development.”
Richard Springer, Vice President of the ASB senate, shared similar sentiments.
“ASB is disappointed in the decision made by the IHL on Friday. We have the safety and well-being of every student as our top priority, and we believe that the way to move toward a safer campus and some semblance of normalcy is through a vaccine requirement with exemptions allowed by law and policy,” he said. “We were hopeful that the Board would hear the concerns of their three member doctors and agree, but we will continue to urge the IHL to hear concerns of students, faculty, and staff on all matters about UM.”
The University of Mississippi has been encouraging all eligible faculty, staff and students to get vaccinated, and is now offering COVID-19 tests on campus.
“At the University of Mississippi, we continue to do the work of getting students, faculty and staff vaccinated by promoting the effectiveness of the vaccines and by providing numerous and easily accessible opportunities to receive vaccinations on campus,” said Lisa Stone, University of Mississippi Strategic Communications Director. “So far, the university has administered more than 6,000 vaccine doses to students, employees and the community since we began offering vaccines in the Spring 2021 semester.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the IHL met in closed session. According to Caron Blanton, IHL director of communications, the board meeting was open to the public.