UL system president: ‘Our student population is not sufficiently vaccinated’

Only about 40 percent of UL system students are vaccinated

By: - August 26, 2021 8:32 am

The University Center at the University of New Orleans (Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

As public universities across the state announced this week that COVID-19 vaccination will be mandatory for students, University of Louisiana system President Jim Henderson told the Board of Regents Wednesday morning that “our student population is not sufficiently vaccinated” at 40 percent. 

The UL system — with over 90,000 students — enrolls more people than any other university system in Louisiana.

Fifty-four percent of LSU students, faculty and staff in the Baton Rouge campus are vaccinated and 70 percent of Southern University students are at least partially vaccinated. 

Southern University President Ray Belton said he was “pleasantly surprised” at his students’ enthusiasm to get the vaccine. LSU President William Tate there is “a general optimism” that vaccination rates at his university will increase.

But students can easily get around any university vaccination mandate in Louisiana. They don’t have to be vaccinated if they provide a medical exemption from a physician or “a written dissent from the student or his parent or guardian,” according to Louisiana state law.

“It’s important to understand that we are in a state that a vaccine mandate is simply not in our arsenal,” Henderson said.

College leaders also praised the “Shot for $100” campaign — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ latest vaccine incentive program — for getting more students vaccinated. Edwards is promising 75,000 college students who sign up for vaccination a $100 Visa card. So far, 2,600 college students have taken advantage.

Here’s a more thorough breakdown of each college leader had to say about their system’s COVID-19 mitigation and vaccination progress:

LSU system

LSU announced Tuesday that students in the Baton Rouge campus have to provide proof of vaccination or apply for a vaccination exemption by Sept. 10. Tate said he believes the university will see “a reasonable uptick in vaccinations.”

LSU students who didn’t provide proof of vaccination at the start of school this month are already required to do monthly testing. The university will also test the wastewater in campus residence halls and greek life houses.

“When the wastewater indicates that there is a significant uptick in virus, we enter into those residential environments… to make sure (students) get individual COVID tests,” Tate said. “That allows us to ascertain whether or not there’s a spread on campus.”

People with positive COVID-19 cases and their close contacts will be asked to isolate.

About 54 percent — or 21,143 of LSU’s 39,000 students, faculty and staff on the Baton Rouge campus — are vaccinated, according to the university’s dashboard. The rates among certain segments of LSU’s population are a lot higher however. LSU football is reporting a 100 percent vaccination rate among players and coaches. Students in fraternities and sororities are also over 90 percent vaccinated. 

While the Baton Rouge campus will use a vaccine mandate, Tate said the other LSU campuses “will have a bit more leeway.”

“Each of the other campuses’ chancellors have been tasked with implementing protocols and procedures that work for their unique campuses,” Ernie Ballard, an LSU spokesperson, said over text.

Southern University system

Seventy percent of Southern University students are at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, Belton said.

One hundred percent of Southern’s football team and coaching staff are vaccinated as well, he said, as well as 95 percent of their band.

“We have impressed upon the student leaders, fraternities and sororities to take the lead, and they are doing so,” Belton said.

Southern University students living on campus were also required to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test before moving in earlier this month, Belton said.

Southern University students will also be required to provide proof of vaccination, unless they opt out, before registering for Spring 2022 classes. Students who refuse to be vaccinated must submit to regular COVID-19 testing.

University of Louisiana system

While only 40 percent of students in the UL system are vaccinated, 80 percent of faculty and staff across the system have been innoculated against COVID-19, Henderson said. 

The UL system includes Louisiana Tech, Grambling State, McNeese State, Nicholls State, Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Louisiana at Monroe and the University of New Orleans.

“We’re going to continue to move forward aggressively and try to vaccinate as many students as possible,” he said.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is a former Louisiana Illuminator reporter. Prior to working with the Illuminator, Canicosa worked for Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon. Canicosa earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.