By Kathleen Peppo | LSU Manship School News Service
A resolution calling on LSU to add the COVID-19 vaccine to its list of mandatory immunizations for students returning to campus this fall passed the LSU Faculty Senate 52-1 Thursday.
Inessa Bazayev, one of the professors who proposed the resolution, said 140 LSU faculty members had signed on to it out of concern about the potential health risks for them and their students.
Bazayev, an associate professor of music theory, said the resolution “prioritizes students’ safety by requiring students to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 prior to the start to fall 2021, given that LSU was planning on a return to face-to-face instruction in the fall, including for large classes.”
Professor Roger Laine, a biological sciences professor, voiced his wholehearted support, saying he was “unwilling to get into a room where my 35 students are not vaccinated.”
Political Science Professor Daniel Tirone said that LSU is scheduling classes at 100% of classroom capacity.
“So it is obvious that the intention is that they’re going to have every seat filled to the extent that they can, but it is not clear that they’re going to maintain the current mitigation measures,” he said. “And so that, I think, only enforces the need for the vaccine requirement.”
The nearly unanimous vote came after LSU’s interim president, Tom Galligan, and University of Louisiana System President Dr.Jim Henderson announced this week that they did not plan to require the more than 125,000 students at their schools to get the vaccine before returning for in-person classes in the fall.
More than 70 universities across the country have said they will require the vaccine, a point continually brought up by LSU professors at Thursday’s meeting. A recent survey indicated that about a third of Louisiana residents do not plan to take the vaccine, raising fears among the professors that a similar percentage of students might return from summer vacation without it.
“I think it’s really important that all the students be vaccinated, and these other major universities have already done this, so I 100 percent support this,” said Laine.
“More institutions join this reasonable and responsible movement every day,” Bazayev said.
The University of California and the California State University systems were among the latest to announce vaccination plans. They said Thursday that they intend to require vaccines for the 1 million students and employees of their 33 campuses once the federal Food and Drug Administration formally approves the vaccines.
Galligan and Henderson have said their campuses cannot require students to be vaccinated because the FDA has only approved the COVID vaccine for emergency use and has not completed its full safety investigations. But other universities have said that the health risks and the possibility of additional COVID-19 variants warrant vaccine requirements.
Legal experts have said the issue is likely to be settled in courts.
Professor Meredith Veldman, an associate professor of history at LSU, said at the Faculty Senate meeting that she had received 79 emails about the resolution faculty members, with 76 supporting a vaccine requirement.
Galligan and Henderson have said they are strongly encouraging all students and employees to get the vaccine and that they will use other measures, like mask mandates and social distancing, ifneeded to protect their campuses. LSU has already vaccinated 10,000 of its more than 35,000 students and employees, Galligan said.
“What if the governor removes the mask mandate this summer?” Veldman asked, referring to a statewide mask mandate imposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. “Will LSU feel they must remove the mask mandate in classrooms that are at 100% capacity with unvaccinated students?”
Leaders of the state Legislature have said there is little chance that lawmakers will require students to take vaccines. Galligan has noted the Louisiana Department of Health has not required them.
Daniel Tirone, a political science professor, said he found very little legislation relevant to universities’ ability and duty to require immunizations.
“The only requirement there is actually for meningococcal disease, so we already go beyond what is statutorily required,” Tirone said. “So, it does not seem like we’d be making this up out of whole cloth to add this COVID-19 requirement to the current policy statement.”
Galligan and Henderson said this week that they are reviewing how to accommodate faculty members who ask to teach online rather than returning to in-person classes this fall.
Henderson said administrators will consider age, medical conditions and family health concerns, along with the latest public health guidance, in making the decisions on a case-by-case basis.