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ASB Senate Passes Resolution on UM COVID-19 Policies

By Violet Jira and Landon Prestwood

The Daily Mississippian

The ASB Senate meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14 was marked by a long period of debate over SR 21-10. Photo by HG Biggs.

The Associated Student Body Senate voted Tuesday evening to support the faculty senate’s resolution calling on the University of Mississippi to implement a campus-wide COVID-19 vaccination mandate. 

By a vote of 26-18, the ASB Senate passed SR 21-10, which reads, “Therefore, be it enacted that the ASB Senate support the faculty senate’s resolutions and call for a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all students, faculty, and staff, with exemptions allowed by law and policy.”

On Sept. 7, the Faculty Senate passed its resolution calling on the university to initiate a vaccine mandate and called on other bodies at the university — such as the Associated Student Body and the Staff Council — to support their resolution.

With the pressure previously on ASB, President Morgan Atkins cited the university’s inaction as their biggest concern with current COVID-19 policies.

“As of right now, the University of Mississippi is not doing enough in preventing the spread of COVID-19,” said a liaison on behalf of Atkins. “We have been ranked last for months and we have been encouraging our students to be vaccinated, but we lack the institutional support to make a genuine impact on our community.”

Some senators worry that the resolution is the student body’s last chance to have an impact on COVID-19 policy.

“This resolution is a necessary call to action to our administration to solidify accommodation,” Chair of Committee on Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement Anastasia Jones-Burdick said. “This [the resolution] is the last card in our deck.”

Maddy Ryan, Chair of Committee on Governmental Operations, and Bennett Matson, Chair of Committee on External Affairs, presented and took questions on the bill on behalf of the other seven senators who also authored the resolution. 

“The resolution is a non-binding call to action, or in this case, calling out the lack of action,” Ryan said as she introduced the bill. “This legislation is suggesting a vaccine mandate and recognizing the faculty senate resolution which has called for our support.” 

ASB Senate, like the faculty senate, cannot implement a mandate or take measures that force the administration to implement a mandate. The resolution gives them an opportunity to officially declare their position on the matter, and recommend that university administration take action. 

The senate body was split on the matter, and the vote was close. The body passed the resolution 26 to 18, narrowly meeting the simple majority required to pass it. 

Some senators echoed the sentiments of Ryan and Matson and were vocally, absolutely in favor of the resolution. Others, like Sen. Cole Wood voted no on the resolution, citing the lack of support from his constituents. 

“I have spoken to my constituents about this issue as much as I can and every single person I’ve asked has said no, adamantly,” Wood said. “They do not want the vaccine mandate, they do not want any further steps—they don’t want any further steps period.” 

The resolution comes after weeks of talk about the university’s approach to the fall 2021 school year with respect to the ongoing pandemic. After cases spiked towards the end of the summer, the Chancellor amended his decision to return to full normal operations, instating an indoor mask policy. 

Cases state and nationwide are slowing, but cases are still high on campus, with 72 new confirmed cases over the past seven days, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. Local hospitals are still overwhelmed and ASB senators, as well as health professionals, have shared concerns over the impact that university activities, like tailgating on game weekends, will have on local transmission levels. 

Lila Osman, President Pro Tempore & Chair of the Rules Committee, had similar sentiments about lack of leadership.

“Now it is time as student leaders to make those difficult decisions, decisions that the university itself is avoiding,” Osman said. “We need to hold the university accountable to manage this public health crisis because we are not the experts. It should not be the responsibility of student organizations to manage a pandemic.”

The ASB Senate is expecting a response from the Office of the Chancellor in the coming days. 

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