Amending their previous suggestion, the Mississippi Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL) voted to prohibit public colleges and universities from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition for employment or enrollment, excluding medical institutions. IHL issued a statement at their Aug. 27 meeting strongly advising vaccination for faculty and students, but amended their position at their Sept. 17 meeting.
The UM Faculty Senate, Associated Student Body and the physician on the IHL board disagreed with this decision, with the faculty senate even speaking out about their disappointment. Why the IHL would prohibit a vaccine mandate when so many at Ole Miss have clearly stated a desire for it doesn’t seem to make sense. The IHL claims they want university life to return to normal, but they are not listening to the student and faculty opinion that a vaccine mandate might be the best way to do this.
Some are worried that mandating a vaccine violates individuals’ freedoms, but over 700 colleges and universities in the U.S. have already required the vaccine for their students and staff. If vaccinations were mandated, maybe UM students wouldn’t have to spend large amounts of time wearing masks and university facilities and classes could return to a more normal atmosphere.
Many Mississippi colleges and universities have been offering incentives such as scholarships and gift cards to students to receive the vaccine, which IHL has publicly commended and listed as one way Mississippi is helping to slow the spread of COVID-19. The dichotomy between words and actions on this issue begs the question of how much IHL cares about the people they serve. On one hand, they acknowledge how helpful the vaccine is and strongly encourage students to receive it, yet on the other they refuse to listen to student and faculty appeals to mandate it. Considering the university opinion and IHL acknowledgement of vaccine safety, it seems that if the board’s motivations were based on campus opinion or student safety, a vaccine mandate should be the best option.
The physician on the IHL Board of Trustees was the single vote against this recent prohibition, showing that the medical community’s voice is not being heard. The board is still allowing medical institutions to mandate the vaccine, which shows their understanding of how relevant and useful the vaccine is in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks, yet are refusing to share this protection with other university communities. This essentially disregards the safety of all immunocompromised faculty and students on campus, considering how difficult lacking a vaccine mandate makes it to experience campus life and education the same way as other universities this year.
The fact that Mississippi colleges are offering in-person classes is a false illusion of normalcy on campus. A vaccine mandate could push campus life back to how it used to be and ensure the safety of everyone who attends, works at or lives in the community of a Mississippi college or university. IHL has offered very little explanation for its rejection of this mandate, and its disregard for opinions of faculty and students shows that the communities they serve are not at the heart of their decision-making process.
Briley Rakow is a sophomore majoring in integrated marketing and communications from Lemont, IL.