UMKC suspends vaccine mandate for all employees, including student workers

Connor Stewart

Update: As of 5 p.m., Dec. 7, the UM System has decided to suspend the vaccine mandate for all employees. This decision comes only hours after a federal judge in Georgia issued a stay on the enforcement of the president’s mandate, which would require all federal contractors to be vaccinated.

The system president, Mun Choi, announced the decision in a statement emailed to all university employees. He said that the vaccine requirement, while suspended, may still be subject to reinstatement following any changes to the legal situation.

“We noted [in an earlier statement] that the mandate could potentially be adjusted or rescinded due to court actions,” Choi wrote. “This is a fluid situation. If the federal contractor vaccination mandate comes back into effect, we will update you of changes to the policy.”

The following information was published a few hours before the suspension was announced. While specifics such as vaccination deadlines may be subject to change, much of the information remains the same should the system reverse its decision.

UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal informed all university employees that they will be required to have a full vaccination status against the COVID-19 virus, according to a Dec. 2 email.

The official announcement comes just two weeks after University of Missouri System President Mun Choi issued a statement on the possibility of implementing vaccination requirements. The earlier statement signed by Agrawal and other Missouri college leaders, confirmed that the Board of Curators had passed a vaccination requirement, though it would be subject to change should there be any changes in federal courts. 

According to the new policy, all university employees must have their necessary shots by Jan. 4, 2022. This allows for the 2-week window that vaccines need to take full effect, ensuring employees are fully vaccinated by the time the spring semester begins on Jan. 18. 

This mandate applies to all schools in the UM System, which includes the University of Missouri- St. Louis, the Missouri University of Science and Technology, the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. 

This mandate is something many students feel is the right move. 

“It’s quite good because we come into contact with lots of other students and outside people,” said Sai Saranya, an already vaccinated student employee at Jazzman’s Café in the Student Union.

Sylvia Jeffress, a UMKC bookstore employee, said that the vaccine mandate is nothing new.

“We have had vaccine mandates since this country began,” Jeffress said. “We need to keep our customers safe. We need to keep each other safe, and if we are all getting sick that does not help anybody.”

In the Nov. 18 statement from the UM System, employees citing religious reasons or a verified medical reason may be able to claim an exemption from the mandate. Additionally, administrators can individually assess if certain employees are not covered by the mandate, possibly due to the nature of their work or if they operate in areas where contact with other workers is limited. 

Coordinators are currently working out details on how to claim an exemption and the types of policies and training that will need to occur because of the mandate. 

“The university will be responsive to individuals who have exemption requests,” said Mun Choi, president of the UM System. “As Governor Parson’s order has stated, we will not require any individual to receive the vaccine if they have a sincerely held religious belief or verified medical reason. We are developing a structure that will allow us to evaluate exemptions as quickly as possible to process those requests.”

This directive is in compliance with President Biden’s executive order from September of this year requiring all federal contractors to get the vaccine. Missouri Governor Mike Parsons issued an executive order of his own, and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and attorney generals of nine other states have issued lawsuits opposing the mandate. 

Even with many Missouri politicians pushing back, the UM System decided to adopt the mandate because of possible cuts in federal funding, in addition to protecting campus communities.

“We understand the significant financial challenges that would be created if we do not comply with this federal mandate,” said Darryl Chatman, the chair of the University of Missouri System’s Board of Curators. 

The UM System is considered a federal contractor and receives millions of dollars in funding for research and educational purposes, meaning noncompliance with the mandate could jeopardize federal funding. Cuts to funding could cause disruptions in educational programs, university research and its missions according to President Choi.

“The board has encouraged our campus communities to get vaccinated pursuant to the federal vaccine mandate, and we will continue to do everything we can to keep our communities safe while also respecting individual freedoms,” Chatman said.

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