Faculty at Some U.S. State Universities Protest for More Safety Measures

Professors on some campuses want vaccine mandates, while administrators say their hands are tied by state laws and political realities.,


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Faculty at some U.S. state universities protest for more safety measures.

JJ Weeks, 19, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., earlier this month.Credit…Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

Aug. 17, 2021, 12:48 p.m. ET

At Pennsylvania State University, the faculty senate passed a resolution expressing “no confidence” in the school’s plan to bring back students without requiring them to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

At Mississippi’s public universities, the pleas of hundreds of professors to require vaccinations have been drowned out by a politically conservative drumbeat against mandates.

And at Clemson University, the faculty plans to stage a protest on Wednesday, the first day of classes, to call for mandatory masks.

As thousands of students begin returning to campuses around the United States for the fall, more than 500 universities have said they will require coronavirus vaccination this year.

But at dozens of universities with less stringent health requirements, from Ohio to Iowa to North Carolina, professors are using protests, petitions and even resignations to press their demands for tighter coronavirus prevention methods. Much of the protest is coming in states where politicians, virtually all Republicans, have fiercely opposed vaccine or mask requirements, leaving universities with few tools to combat the spread of the virus.

A vast majority of counties across the United States are experiencing either “substantial” or “high” transmission rates that call for indoor mask-wearing even among the vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Orientation at Clemson University prompted the faculty protest. The university asked students to protect themselves from the Delta variant by wearing masks, but few students did so at a convocation for freshmen last week, judging by a photo of the event that circulated online.

“When I see hundreds of students packed together, and you can’t find a mask, I thought, ‘we are in trouble,'” said Kim Paul, a biologist at Clemson, a public land-grant university in South Carolina with about 20,000 undergraduates.

“We had a mask mandate spring semester,” Dr. Paul said. “I would like to see that reinstated. That’s what we need to do.”

A spokesman for Clemson, Joe Galbraith, said that after seeing unmasked students at the last freshman convocation on Friday, the university placed masks at every seat on Monday during a similar meeting of transfer students. “Participation was quite different,” Mr. Galbraith noted.


Clemson University placed masks on every seat for a meeting of transfer students on Monday, and many people were seen wearing masks.Credit…Clemson University

South Carolina bans both vaccine and mask mandates. “I think the university needs to show real leadership and push back against the governor and say, ‘No, we are an institution of higher learning,'” Dr. Paul said. “We need to follow the science.”

In Mississippi, hundreds of faculty members signed a petition demanding that the university system require vaccination.

Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.

Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.Vaccine rules . . . and businesses. Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, with varying approaches. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.Schools. On Aug. 11, California announced that it would require teachers and staff of both public and private schools to be vaccinated or face regular testing, the first state in the nation to do so. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots. Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.New York. On Aug. 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that proof of vaccination would be required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a broad range of activities. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.

The petition was started at Mississippi State University, where classes are set to begin this week. Professors there are also pressing the school to move to remote learning until the pandemic is brought under control.

Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, has encouraged the state’s residents to get vaccinated, but the state has declined to require vaccines on university campuses.

A spokesman for Mississippi State, Sid Salter, said that about 52 percent of the student body has reported being vaccinated, a rate higher than the state population as a whole.

Penn State, with 40,000 undergraduates at its main campus in State College, Pa., decided not to require vaccination, even though Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed a bill that would have banned vaccine requirements. The school has imposed a mask mandate.

In a letter to the Penn State community last week, Eric J. Barron, the university’s president, blamed the decision on “political realities.”

“State funding of our university requires a two-thirds vote of the Pennsylvania legislature, meaning that our funding relies on strong bipartisan support,” Dr. Barron wrote.

As if to reinforce that concern, the president pro tempore of the Pennsylvania State Senate, Jake Corman, a Republican whose district includes State College, expressed concern on Monday that state lawmakers might retaliate against the university if it mandated vaccines. Mr. Corman said he would not support funding cuts.

A survey of Penn State undergraduates in State College found that 83 percent were fully vaccinated, a rate the university called “promising.”

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