The Board of Trustees within the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL) voted 9-3 on a measure that would require employees at all public universities in Mississippi to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8.
The Oct. 25 decision is in response to Executive Order 14042, which was signed by President Joe Biden on Sept. 9. This order establishes new COVID-19 safety protocols for federal contractors, which includes a vaccine mandate. Employees at Mississippi public universities are considered federal contractors and subcontractors in both measures, and are therefore expected to comply with the order.
Currently, seven states are suing the Biden administration over this executive order. Mississippi is not one of the states included in the lawsuit.
Rodney Bennett, the President of University of Southern Mississippi, explained the order’s impact on the university in an email. He said that faculty and staff need to receive their final dose of the vaccine by Nov. 24 so they can be considered fully vaccinated by the Dec. 8 deadline.
“There could be potential impacts to your employment status with the University if you are not vaccinated in time, and you do not qualify for a legal, medical or religious exception,” Bennett said in the email.
Bennett was not available for comment, but Spokesperson and Chief Communication Officer James Coll forwarded the aforementioned email to the Student Printz.
Prior to the October announcement, the IHL and Southern Miss have not imposed any vaccine requirements on campus. In October, Southern Miss’s Faculty Senate passed a vaccine mandate resolution that was mostly symbolic in nature, as a September ruling by the IHL blocked individual IHL institutions from implementing their own vaccine mandates.
Robert Press is the Welfare and Environment Committee Chair in the Faculty Senate. Press said that this new measure and existing measures do not go far enough to ensure the safety of the campus community.
“Masks are not the best protection[.] Vaccinations are much better, so we’re a long way from being a real safe campus,” Press said.
Oscar Coles is a first year Ph.D. student researching military history at Southern Miss. Originally from the United Kingdom, he moved to Hattiesburg this past August. Cole said that in the U.K., mandatory vaccinations are a routine part of life, even before the pandemic.
“If you’ve had vaccines before, why would you be against this one?” Coles said. “I’m sure they’re some people who’ve never got vaccinated before, but I believe the majority of us have, in the U.K. and in the U.S. So this is just another one.”
The vaccine mandate for employees also applies to student workers on campus. Dee Dee Anderson, the Vice President for Student Affairs, conveyed similar messaging as President Bennett in an email sent to students working at USM.
“If you are not vaccinated by the deadline, there could be potential negative impacts on your employment status with the University,” Anderson said.
Anderson was otherwise not available for comment at the time of publication.
Junior Ricky Marcellus is a Music Education major at Southern Miss. He works at the rock wall within the Payne Center on campus. Marcellus, who is fully vaccinated, said that the employee vaccine mandate was needed.
“I want things to go back to normal just as much as anyone else,” Marcellus said. “My view is that this isn’t for me — this is for everyone else. I got vaccinated and I wear my mask for everyone else.”
Marcellus also told the Printz that the rock climbing community and staff has mostly been receptive of the new measure. However, this has not been uniform among all student workers.
Sophomore Todd Coulter is a Public Health major and Resident Assistant at Southern Miss. Coulter is fully vaccinated, but many of his fellow RAs are not. He said those RAs have reacted negatively to the vaccine mandate for student workers.
“People have very strong and firm beliefs in not getting vaccinated and so, having to be forced to be vaccinated has, you know, given a little bit of a stir,” Coulter said.
Proof of vaccination for university employees will need to be submitted to Southern Miss’s HR system by Dec. 3. Instructions for record submission and information regarding medical, legal, work and religious exemptions, can be accessed on Southern Miss’ website.