State schools

Public schools have yet to act on the vaccine executive order

About $120 million in federal contracts from the University of Arkansas system “could be subject” to an executive order from President Joe Biden that imposes covid-19 vaccination requirements on contractors, an official said Wednesday. UA system spokesperson.

But so far, neither the UA system nor other large public universities in Arkansas have taken steps to comply with the order, unlike some large public universities in neighboring states which recently said that the employees had to get vaccinated to meet the December 8 deadline.

“As we continue our analysis of federal requirements — as well as related laws recently passed by the state legislature — we will advise our campuses on how to approach each contract going forward,” the spokesperson said. of UA System, Nate Hinkel, in an email. .

Hinkel did not say whether there are plans to require some or all employees to be vaccinated against covid-19.

Arkansas lawmakers passed a law, Law 977, in April that prohibits state agencies or entities from requiring covid-19 vaccinations for two years after a vaccine for COVID-19 is initially approved. covid-19 by the Food and Drug Administration. Campus officials at UA-Fayetteville often cited the law when employees asked if a covid-19 vaccination mandate was forthcoming.

The federal executive order, announced Sept. 9, states that federal contractors must adhere to guidelines which, as issued Sept. 24, state that “employees of contractors must be fully immunized no later than Dec. 8, 2021 “.

Federal safety guidelines define a person as “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccine series or two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine. The deadline for complying with the Dec. 8 requirement with the Moderna vaccine passed on Wednesday, based on the schedule for administering the two doses in order 28 days apart.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

Biden’s executive order applies to new contracts but also to the extension or renewal of existing contracts. Generally, contracts must also be over $250,000.

Spokespersons for the ASU system, the University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas Technical University also said Wednesday that officials are still evaluating the executive order.

A statement from ASU System spokesman Jeff Hankins referenced at least one contract potentially affected by the executive order.

“We are still evaluating the order, our federal contracts that may be impacted, and our options moving forward,” Hankins said in an email.

Sam Strasner, a spokesperson for Arkansas Tech University, said the university is “reviewing the executive order” and how its provisions may apply to any applicable federal contract between ATU and the government. American”.

The UA system is the largest university system in the state and, based on contract information published by the federal government on USASpending.gov, is likely the recipient of more federal contracts than other state universities.

The Biden executive order specifically excludes grants, but examples of university federal contracts include certain research work done on a contract basis.

For example, the USASpending.gov database includes a research and development contract between the Department of Defense and the UA system for up to $1.2 million, which is expected to run from 2020 to 2023 for work on “machine learning for multimodal detection and analysis of multilevel fusion data”. .”

“We are in the process of reviewing the executive order and guidelines, and estimating the potential impact on our campuses and employees,” Hinkel said. “We originally estimated that approximately $120 million of current federal contracts could be subject to the requirements.”

The executive order by Biden, a Democrat, drew criticism from Republicans in Arkansas and neighboring states which, like Arkansas, have mostly Republicans as elected officials.

Still, major public universities in some — if not all — of those neighboring states have announced steps to comply with the executive order.

On Oct. 21, the University of Tennessee system announced that it “appears” it is required to ensure that employees working on federal contracts covered by the executive order are vaccinated by Dec. 8. But, unlike some universities, the University of Tennessee System said individual campuses should “determine which employees and locations are subject to the vaccination mandate.”

[EMAIL SIGNUP: Form not appearing above? Click here to subscribe to updates on the coronavirus » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus/email/]

The University of Mississippi announced Monday that “all University employees (including faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students) must be fully immunized by December 8,” also stating that employees must provide proof of vaccination.

Unlike Arkansas, Mississippi State has a single board of supervisors for all public universities, and University of Mississippi Chancellor Glenn Boyce’s announcement of vaccination requirements cited a board vote of Administration of Institutions of Higher Education in the State of Mississippi.

Hinkel acknowledged announcements made elsewhere.

“While we are aware that universities in other states have issued vaccination mandates for all employees as a result of the order, we must consider how we proceed in light of the unique circumstances in Arkansas,” said Hinkel said.

Mississippi doesn’t have a law similar to Law 977, but Tennessee Governor Bill Lee in May signed into law a ban on state agencies from requiring covid-19 vaccinations, according to the National Academy. for State Health Policy.

Auburn University in Alabama posted an announcement on its website on Friday that it and the University of Alabama system would require employees to be vaccinated against covid-19, with the announcement referring to how jobs were at stake.

“Because this vaccination requirement is federally imposed, our institutions have no flexibility in its application or execution. Failure to comply will put our universities at risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars received through federal contracts and awards, as well as thousands of jobs funded by those dollars. This outcome would have serious implications for the teaching, research, and service capabilities of our institutions and could impede economic development activity,” says the press release.

The Biden executive order broadly applies to federal contractors, including small businesses. Vaccine exemptions may be required for employees with disabilities or with strong religious beliefs, according to federal guidelines.