Professors React to Vaccine Mandate Decision

On Oct. 1, Interim President Mindy Benson announced that Southern Utah University will not mandate the vaccine for the spring 2022 semester. Many professors on campus had differing opinions about the decision. 

As controversial as the idea of a vaccine mandate is, Southern Utah University’s administration wanted to give the entire SUU community a chance to voice their concerns. The decision was made after the university released a survey regarding opinions on the issue to the students, and three faculty forums and two student forums were held. 

Dr. Braden Bagley, assistant professor of communication, disagrees with the decision made. 

“I’m not up in arms over it, but at the end of the day, people are going to do what they want to do,” Bagley said. “I think it would have set a good precedent for our university to have a vaccine mandate.”

Dr. Bill Kershisnik, assistant professor of communication, also disagrees with the decision, yet understands the complexity of vaccine mandates.

“I view vaccinating as a civic duty, and I take that very seriously,” Kershisnik said. “I have immunocompromised people in my immediate family who are unable to get vaccinated, so these things concern me.”

Over 700 U.S. colleges have said on-campus students must receive the vaccine. However, many mandates fall into a legal gray area. With some colleges who require vaccinations, students or faculty can have religious, medical or personal exemptions. 

If SUU were to implement the vaccine mandate in the spring, students could receive the same exemptions universities are offering nationwide. 

“I think the vaccination mandate that was being presented at SUU with all of the ways to opt out, lacked any real teeth to enforce it,” Kershisnik said. 

Dr. Doug Bennett, assistant professor of political sciences, sees the mandate issue being politicized. 

“I am vaccinated, I want everyone to be vaccinated,” Bennett said. “If there is to be a vaccine mandate, a mandate is a law. It should come the way our laws come. The people we elect should meet, debate, discuss and vote. Then, the executive should sign legislation.”

“Mandates for the sake of mandates, I don’t like,” Bennett continued. “What is the basis of the federal government’s authority to tell me that I have to get a vaccine? Or three shots, or four shots?”

While there is no federal mandate for universities, President Joe Biden said in a press conference that organizations with over 100 employees and all federal employees must be vaccinated in order to hold their job. However, Bennett questions the Biden mandate. 

“Biden’s mandate has never been issued, that’s to say they never issued any paperwork. They held a press conference. How do you enforce a press conference?” Bennett asked. 

SUU has implemented safety policies to help keep the students and staff safe from spreading the virus. When asked if SUU should do more, both Kershisnik and Bagley suggested that the vaccination is the safest course of action. 

“One thing I like that the university has done is they’ve had vaccine clinics, so you can go get a vaccine on campus,” Bagley said. “For the most part I agree with the decisions made, the vaccine mandate is the first one I would have liked to see go the other way.”

Like Bagley, Kershisnik supports the idea of more students getting the vaccine. 

“I do wish that we had an act of the vaccine mandate to show that we are a university that supports science and protects the well-being of students.” Kershisnik said. 

With COVID cases increasing both nationally and at a local scale, some concerns have been raised if students should continue to receive the option to attend class virtually next semester. 

SUU released a statement in August 2021 encouraging faculty to be flexible with their COVID academic accommodations: 

“Acknowledging that students will be affected by COVID, faculty will need to ensure that necessary course content is made available to students who are expected to quarantine. While Zoom recordings are not required, they are recommended; the logistics will be up to individual faculty and/or departments.”

Bennett, Bagley, and Kershisnik all teach classes in-person. 

The decision left up to faculty members, allows professors like Bagley to determine what the best option is for their classes.

“We have enough online options, so if that’s what a student wants, they have that option,” Bagley said. “But if a student signs up for a face-to-face class, they’re making a commitment that they are okay with that expectation.”

Story by: Lexi Hamel