When the subject of college competition emerges, we most often think of athletics. In a wide variety of sports, Mississippi’s eight state-supported universities compete robustly, often against each other.
But our universities compete with each other in another important way: They compete for students and go to great lengths to exploit every perceived advantage they may have.
There’s nothing wrong with healthy competition, of course, but there is nothing healthy about the form of competition that may emerge as the 2021-22 fall semester progresses.
The debate is fixed on whether or not our universities should require all students to be vaccinated for COVID-19, something more than 700 colleges and universities across the country have mandated, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Some universities lack the will to require that vaccination. Privately, they understandably believe requiring vaccinations would drive students to universities that don’t require vaccinations. Then there are those who say they lack the authority to require vaccinations. According to a news story by Mississippi Today, Mississippi State and Ole Miss maintain they cannot require COVID-19 vaccinations because they are not listed among the vaccines mandated by Mississippi’s Institutions of Higher Learning, which governs the state’s eight state-supported universities.
The IHL requires all students to have vaccines for Measles, Mumps and Rubella and other vaccines, depending on the field the students are enrolled in. The IHL has no requirement for COVID-19 vaccines, however. MSU and Ole Miss have interpreted that as meaning they are not allowed to require any vaccines not on the IHL’s list.
In an email response to Mississippi Today, IHL spokesman Caron Blanton said that’s not accurate.
IHL’s immunization policy “represents the minimum requirements that must be enforced by the universities,” Blanton wrote. “Additional requirements are not prohibited.”
In a rational time, you would assume that a COVID-19 vaccination mandate would be a selling point for a university rather than a liability. For students and their parents, such a vaccination policy should be welcomed as the Delta variant sweeps through the state, a form of COVID that data show is far more contagious and more likely to infect younger age groups.
But these are not rational times we live in. Sadly, universities apparently view unilateral vaccine requirements as a liability, even though the vaccine incentives some are offering signal they see the obvious value of widespread vaccination.
University presidents must understand the importance of requiring COVID vaccinations in the university environment where students are often subject to being in large gatherings. Data show that one person who has contracted the Delta variant can infect eight to nine others. In large gatherings such as are found on college campuses, that’s an outbreak waiting to happen.
It seems obvious now that the universities will not act independently in requiring vaccinations. A mandate from the IHL would affect all state universities equally and simultaneously, leveling the playing field.
These are the kinds of decisions the IHL was established to make. We urge the IHL Board to act immediately in making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all state-supported universities.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.