MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University’s full faculty called a rare meeting Wednesday afternoon to address a resolution calling for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students and employees.
Signatures from at least 5% of the faculty were needed to call the meeting and 25% of faculty needed to attend, in order to meet a quorum. Both of those metrics were met, WVU Faculty Senate officials said.
WVU School of Music Prof. Jared Sims introduced the resolution, citing a need “to do everything possible” to ensure in-person learning. He went on to talk about the affects the pandemic has had on campus mental health. Sims also mentioned that vaccine requirements have been commonplace in the country for decades and that music classes, like the ones he teaches, cannot effectively be held with students wearing masks.
“I’ve put forth this resolution because students have invested their time, energy, and their money to come to WVU to learn face to face. And we must do whatever is in our power to provide in-person interactions,” Sims said. “Online learning is not at all either desirable nor is it very effective, and we need to do everything we can to avoid more shutdowns and quarantines. Our students want to be safe, and they want to be in school in-person to get the best education possible.”
The resolution states that:
- The vaccine is FDA approved
- The vaccine is free and widely available
- WVU Health System has a vaccine mandate
- WVU already has vaccine requirements
Dr. Alvin Moss, with the WVU School of Medicine, proposed an exception for those with natural immunity from already having had COVID. His amendment failed.
Before the faculty discussed the resolution, they heard presentations from university administrators.
First to speak was the dean of the WVU School of Public Health, Dr. Jeff Coben, who predicted that the current surge would continue for two to three more weeks. Coben reported that there are currently 131 COVID-19 cases among students and employees and 270 people in quarantine.
Last year, the university set a goal that 70% of campus be vaccinated and that mark has been reached, to the tune of nearly 76% of students and 74% of employees, with a large number of the unvaccinated having had COVID and in turn developing natural antibodies, Coben said.
Coben went on to say that due to increased transmission, WVU officials now believe the percentage needs to be higher. That being said, Coben noted that if a mandate were put in place, it wouldn’t be fast enough to have an effect on the current surge.
WVU Vice President Rob Alsop, who spoke next, said that he “heavily favored vaccinations.” Alsop believes the campus vaccination goal should be 85%.
He acknowledged WVU Medicine’s mandate, but said that its situation was different from that of the campus. Alsop went on to say that he did not believe a mandate is best at this time. Some of the reasons he gave were:
- Since the semester had started, a mandate could be considered a “bait and switch”
- Students leaving school could be “messy” when it comes to funding
- Parents will actively oppose the mandate
- A mandate would exacerbate existing hiring issues with blue collar workers like bus drivers and police officers
- WVU is already mandating regular testing for unvaccinated students and employees
Alsop said that while he doesn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t get vaccinated, he does acknowledge that vaccination anxiety and hesitancy “is real.” Alsop also asked if the faculty really felt it was appropriate to fire a faculty member or kick a student out of school, if they do not get vaccinated.
WVU President Gordon Gee, then spoke, stating that he believes in the vaccine and has been asking students if they are vaccinated and urging them to get the shots if they are not. However, he doesn’t believe in a mandate, saying that current data doesn’t support one. “Rarely do mandates work,” Gee went on to say. Gee also said that many employees who are vaccinated have told him that they don’t support a mandate. Other preventative measures, including plexiglass and N95 masks are available for staff, Gee said.
Arguments from faculty members in support of the resolution included:
- More than 700 other colleges and universities already have mandates
- “Headaches” for university management shouldn’t be a reason not to pass it
- WVU may lose students or faculty to schools that do have mandates
Arguments from faculty members against the resolution included:
- The vaccine was designed for original COVID-19 strain, not the Delta variant
- A belief based on research in Israel that the vaccine is no longer considered as effective
- The “bait and switch” concern brought up by Alsop
The meeting, which was held on Zoom, adjourned after nearly three hours.
Voting for eligible faculty will be open until Noon on Thursday, and results may not be available until up to 48 hours after that, WVU Faculty Senate officials said.
Should the resolution pass, it would be sent on to President Gee and the WVU Board of Governors.