Heads of state insensitive to college outrage over Covid’s lax rules
Some Georgia teachers refuse to teach under the lax rules of Covid-19. Students and professors at Mississippi’s two largest universities have asked the state for tougher measures. From petitions in Utah to “die-in” protests in Iowa, thousands of people are pushing for tougher rules in their institutions.
âNo one else should die,â said Neo Koite, who organized the protest after Ahuero’s death and met with campus administrators about Covid-19 security measures, in an interview.
Colleges in states like California, Maryland, and Virginia have mandated the vaccine, sometimes threatening to take Internet access or student housing from unvaccinated people – and sometimes kick them off entirely. But other states, like Texas, Georgia and Tennessee, have banned or discouraged vaccination warrants or the universal wearing of masks, both on and off campus. Campus calls for more protections continue to escalate as the semester progresses, forcing educators and students to step up their calls to action.
In September, eight chapters of the American Association of University Teachers urged Congress to intervene, saying they were not getting any traction from state and university leaders. Several representatives agreed to attend meetings and Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.) Sent a letter to the Department of Education asking if the federal grant money could be used to secure mandates on college campuses.
“We are just at a level of frustration that I have never seen before,” AAUP President Irene Mulvey said in an interview. “Everyone is fighting the same fight, and it is for common sense rules to end the pandemic and keep people safe.”
Mulvey said she couldn’t think of another unified uprising of faculty across the country like this since McCarthyism threatened academic freedom in the 1950s.
âThe way these governors and legislatures are forbidding universities to do what we know will end the pandemicâ¦ It’s like the building is on fire and they pass rules saying you are prohibited from doing it. use the fire extinguisher, âshe said. in an interview.
The AAUP effort is perhaps the largest in Georgia, where the state chapter led a weeklong protest on 19 campuses. Months of concern from faculty, staff and students have led to little change on campuses, and now at least 50 faculty across the state say they will challenge the ban on mandatory masks by requiring students to wear protective masks. face covers in class.
âWe’re just trying to find ways to cry against the wind at this point,â said Matthew Boedy, president of the Georgia AAUP conference and professor at the University of North Georgia.
“The only lever we had was public attention and the mass movement.”
Some professors have spoken of protecting their children or other more vulnerable family members when begging students to wear masks in class, Boedy said. At least four instructors at the University of Georgia have resigned or retired due to lax mask-wearing policies – a longtime professor retired mid-class when a student refused to wear properly a mask.
âThe University of Georgia is doing everything in its power to protect the health, safety and well-being of our community,â a spokesperson for the university said in a statement, explaining that universities do not had no power to issue warrants without the approval of Georgia’s university system.
Amid conflicting guidelines from state legislatures, governors, state college boards, and federal health agencies, universities have struggled to create health policies. Some have delayed announcing Covid-19 rules while hoping that a clearer legal precedent will be set.
âYou navigate state law issues, you navigate federal law issues,â said Michael Baughman, a lawyer at Troutman Pepper who represents several universities, many of which have vaccine and mask mandates. “It certainly ties their hands a little bit.”
Student and staff disputes over a hazardous work environment would be difficult to win without a permanent policy or safety standard being violated, Baughman said. Still, he said universities that don’t face state laws prohibiting tenure can usually set their own policies.
Even where mask and vaccine warrants are banned, students and faculty are asking for other layers of protection.
Dozens of University of Iowa students pretended to die in September to show what could happen without tighter restrictions. They ask university for distance learning options alongside immunization mandates
At Texas A&M University – where Ahuero was the first student to die from the virus, according to a campus newspaper – The top priority for students is to secure more hybrid and remote classrooms instead of conference rooms filled with often unmasked peers, Koite said.
Students also want better contact tracing, more testing and better housing for people exposed or infected with Covid-19. The university has reported more than 4,000 positive cases of Covid-19 so far this semester. A petition for new Covid-19 university policies, launched in mid-September, has exploded online with more than 24,000 signatures.
Texas A&M did not respond to requests for comment.
Some protests and petitions have had mixed success. Professors at the University of Minnesota sent a letter to university leaders requesting a vaccine mandate, and days later, the university agreed, subject to full FDA approval of a vaccine. Full approval was given to the Pfizer vaccine just over a week after the university announced it.
Other schools, like the University of Utah, also announced a term near the time of full approval and renewed student and faculty applications.
“We figured that if there was a chance that they didn’t implement a vaccine mandate, it would be because they either had bad data or bad data about students’ willingness to accept a vaccine. vaccine mandate, âsaid Devon Cantwell, a leader of Unsafe U., a student advocacy group at the University of Utah. “We thought by showing overwhelming public support from the student body, staff, faculty, that hopefully it would allay fears of pushback.”
Unsafe U applied for a vaccination warrant, and just days after Pfizer’s vaccine received full approval – making it a legal vaccine requirement in Utah – the university announced the warrant. University leaders spoke to students, faculty, the governor, state lawmakers and education officials in Utah before announcing the final policy, said Christopher Nelson, assistant vice president of Health Sciences Public Affairs, in an interview.
Other universities and heads of state have been much less receptive.
The Mississippi State Board of Higher Education said in August that colleges could impose Covid-19 vaccines – although none have taken the opportunity, except in clinical settings. The universities argued that they did not have the necessary authority for a requirement.
Students and faculty continued to push university leaders for a mandate. The Mississippi State University faculty senate voted in September to support the vaccine requirement, as did the University of Mississippi student and faculty senates.
Shortly after those votes, the higher education council voted to ban colleges from requiring the Covid-19 vaccine, a reversal of its policy from a month earlier. None of the board members were available for comment.
Months of advocacy by faculty, staff and students have had no apparent effect on policy.
âWhat does it mean to not acknowledge the hundreds of people who have raised these concerns with you? Said Andrea Spain, a Mississippi state professor who in May sent a letter to university and state officials requesting a vaccine requirement. “It’s demoralizing.”