K-State will require COVID-19 vaccinations for workers. Other universities could follow

·3 min read

An updated story on vaccine mandates at the University of Kansas and Wichita State University is available: here.

Kansas State University said Friday it will require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by early December, becoming the first major public university in the state to issue a mandate.

The University of Kansas and Wichita State University later announced similar rules. The Kansas Board of Regents, which governs the schools, informed the institutions Thursday that they fall under a directive from President Joe Biden requiring federal contractors to ensure their workforces are vaccinated.

K-State Provost Charles Taber announced the mandate during a Friday morning virtual town hall with faculty and staff. The university has set a deadline of Dec. 8 — the date set by the federal government.

“It’s now been determined the executive order applies to Kansas research universities and their employees,” Taber said.

The mandate is almost certain to anger Kansas Republicans, who have condemned Biden’s vaccination push as an overreach of power. The universities had delayed requiring vaccines for students and staff through the beginning of the school year because such requirements could risk their state-level funding.

In May the Legislature passed a provision in the 2022 budget barring state-funded institutions, like universities, from requiring vaccine passports. It’s unclear how the federal guidelines will interact with the state-level ban.

Next week the Legislature will hold a two day committee to discuss state responses to the federal guidelines.

The K-State mandate doesn’t apply to students. But it does apply to graduate and undergraduate students who work for the university.

Athletic department employees are also not affected by the mandate, except for a small number who work directly for the university.

“If you’re drawing a paycheck from the university for work, this will apply,” said Jay Stephens, K-State’s vice president for human capital services.

Stephens said employees who aren’t vaccinated by the deadline will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but said those who simply refuse to get a shot could be fired. The university will have a process to apply for a medical or religious exemption.

The true number of employees who haven’t yet been vaccinated is unclear. In July, the university said 72% of students, faculty and staff had been vaccinated.

A spokesman for the Board of Regents didn’t immediately respond to questions.

Abigail Fern, a spokeswoman for Pittsburg State University, said the college was working to understand the guidance and would have more details soon. Emporia State, a spokeswoman said, would not require vaccines because they do not have federal contracts.

Other universities, including the University of Kansas, did not immediately respond to The Star’s request for comment. In an email, Friday, a K-State spokeswoman said additional details on the new policy would be available Friday afternoon.

Across state lines, the University of Missouri system is “still reviewing the federal vaccine mandate to determine how it affects us,” spokesman Christian Basi said. The system’s board of curators in September passed resolutions prohibiting any COVID-19 vaccine requirements for most students, faculty and staff, though that does not affect vaccine mandates currently in place for MU Health Care employees.

The Star’s Jeanne Kuang contributed reporting

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