LSU Faculty: Step up vaccine requirement

By Adrian Dubose | LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE—LSU faculty members have stepped up calls for a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for students, and school officials have scheduled a meeting open to the entire faculty next Tuesday to discuss that and other safety concerns.

Faculty members sent two letters to LSU Interim President Tom Galligan and Executive Vice President and Provost Stacia Haynie seeking a requirement that students be vaccinated before returning in the fall. At least 125 faculty members have signed onto the request.

Tulane University announced last week that all of its students will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. It joined Xavier University of Louisiana and Dillard University as the only colleges in the state to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine.

The University of New Orleans Faculty Senate passed a 29-0-3 vote last week on a resolution that strongly recommends that all faculty members, staff, and students at UNO get the vaccine.

The letters from the LSU professors came after its faculty senate voted 52-1 last month to call for a vaccine requirement. The letters cited a growing number of colleges around the country that are requiring vaccines for returning students in the fall.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 380 colleges around the nation are requiring vaccines for next fall, and 179 of them are public schools.

LSU officials have maintained that they could not mandate the vaccines since they have only been approved under emergency use authorizations. Pfizer, however, said recently that it was seeking full authorization of its vaccine from the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Galligan stated in an interview that LSU would consider a vaccine mandate if the vaccines receive full authorization from the FDA–and especially if the Louisiana Department of Health adds the vaccines to its mandatory vaccine list.

Another hurdle is that roughly a third of Louisiana’s state legislators have not gotten a vaccine, according to a recent survey by The Advocate.

The Advocate also reported that a House committee advanced two bills on Monday aimed at ensuring that state residents in general are not required to get the vaccines. That action came after a debate in which several Republican lawmakers implied that the vaccines may be unsafe, even though federal vaccine scientists insist that they are.
The LSU faculty members assert that the school’s plans to return in the fall to pre-pandemic-size classes with little social distancing “violates the university’s duty to care,” especially given a recent report that only 17% of Louisianians in the 18-29 age group have been vaccinated so far.

Tuesday’s faculty meeting will be held under the aegis of the Faculty Council, an organization that is supposed to meet once a year but has not met since around 2005 on LSU’s main campus.

Meredith Veldman, a history professor and one of the faculty organizers, said she is “very pleased that the Council will meet and discuss our resolution to require that students be vaccinated against COVID before coming to campus for Fall 2021.”

Older faculty members and some with compromised immune systems say they are worried about the health risks of being in rooms for one to three hours without knowing how many students in their classes have been vaccinated.

Faculty members would like to see LSU maintain a mask mandate inside campus buildings and set up reasonable guidelines for faculty members who might face health risks to teach online instead of in-person.

But these issues became more complicated last week when the Centers for Disease Control suddenly changed their guidance and said it was safe for most vaccinated people to go without masks both inside and outside.

Galligan said LSU will continue to monitor CDC guidelines and other schools’ responses.

Professors also would like LSU to use federal COVID-19 relief money to hire temporary instructors to reduce the size of classes in the fall and space students further apart.

Galligan said he is not sure if LSU can use federal funds for that purpose. He also said that the school’s COVID -related expenses and lost revenues already total $25 million more than the COVID relief money it is receiving.

Christine Day, a political science professor and the acting president of the University of New Orleans Faculty Senate said that her senate “would like for there to be a mandate.”

But, she said, “I really don’t know what exactly the university has the discretion to do.”

Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, said he is aiming for the most nuanced response possible. He said the paramount concern of the faculty members at the nine schools in his system is to ensure the healthiest possible environment for students, staff and their communities at large, as well as for themselves.

“We also have to be cognizant of the needs of the immunocompromised and others for whom vaccination is not an option,” he said. “Widespread vaccination is the surest way to accomplish that.”

Both LSU and the UL schools are strongly urging all students to get vaccinated.

But Henderson also said that the vaccines’ emergency-use status “is problematic for public institutions wishing to implement a mandate.”

“The biological and sociological peer-reviewed studies are informing public health guidance, and we will continue to follow that,” Henderson said.