The Mississippi College Board certainly had the right to decide that the eight public universities it supervises cannot require students, faculty and staff to get the Covid-19 vaccine. But the way it went about making this decision is going to prompt plenty of questions.
The College Board and officials at its universities had played hot-potato on the vaccine issue for several weeks. In August, the board spokeswoman told Mississippi Today that the state’s existing vaccination requirements were a minimum, and that, “Additional requirements are not prohibited.”
Officials at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State, however, said they did not believe their schools had the authority to mandate the vaccine as a condition of attendance.
If universities did have that authority before, they don’t now. On Sept. 17, the College Board voted during a retreat that schools can’t require the vaccine as a condition of employment or attendance.
What’s most interesting about this, according to the College’s Board’s spokeswoman, is that the vote occurred in a room that lacked webcasting capabilities. She said there is no recording of the vote or the discussion leading up to it — as if no one thought to turn on their smartphone’s audio recording device or connect to Facebook’s live broadcast feature for a topic that was certain to be of great interest.
When the minutes of the meeting become public, they will reveal how the trustees voted. For now, though, all that anyone can rely on is an Aug. 27 vote in which the College Board ignored the objections of its two member physicians and voted not to require the vaccine at the eight universities. In this vote, the University of Mississippi Medical Center was the only institution where vaccines would be required.
The specific wording of the Aug. 27 motion approved by the College Board was that “we would not impose any requirement on the universities to mandate vaccination.” This is very different from its Sept. 16 vote, in which the board specifically instructed the universities not to require vaccines.
It’s pretty obvious what’s going on here. Neither the College Board nor the universities wanted to be the mean school librarian who said, in a state where skepticism of the Covid-19 vaccine is well above the national average, that the shots were required for university participation.
Both groups dodged their way around the issue until forced to act. Mississippi Today reports this may have occurred when a Mississippi State provost sent an email to faculty saying that the minutes of the College Board’s Aug. 27 meeting directed universities not to require vaccinations. That assessment was inaccurate — until the College Board acted last week.
Literally hundreds of universities across the nation, public and private, now require Covid-19 vaccination. Mississippi’s decision not to do that adds an element of risk, especially for older or less-healthy university employees. Only time will tell if this was the correct choice.
Jack Ryan, Enterprise-Journal