K-State, KU, Wichita State to require staff COVID vaccination by Dec. 8 under Biden administration mandate

Jason Tidd Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas State University will require all of its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, citing President Joe Biden's mandate for federal contractors.

The three largest public universities in Kansas will require all of their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, citing President Joe Biden's mandate for federal contractors.

Kansas State University was the first to announce the COVID-19 vaccine requirement as Provost Charles Taber addressed a virtual town hall for staff Friday morning. The school followed Kansas Board of Regents guidance to comply with the federal mandate, which also applies to the University of Kansas and Wichita State University.

Memos from University of Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod and Wichita State President Rick Muma on Friday afternoon confirmed those schools would in fact implement similar requirements.

"KU participates in millions of dollars in federal contracts that fund research, employment and educational efforts — all of which are at risk if we are not aligned with the executive order," Girod wrote. "For this reason, we cannot be flexible with employees who choose not to comply with the vaccine requirement."

K-State has more than 275 federal contracts and cooperative agreements, university officials said in a statement.

More:'I don't think we're there': Doctors say Kansas schools should keep mask mandates as youth vaccination approaches

Penalty for non-compliance with vaccine mandate could include termination

Biden issued an executive order on Sept. 9 that requires COVID-19 vaccination for federal contractors.

All employees at the three schools employees, regardless of whether they work on federal contracts, must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 8. That is the deadline set in Biden's contractor mandate.

Kansas State Vice President for Human Capital Services Jay Stephens declined to lay out a disciplinary process for staff who refuse the vaccine but said the penalty could include termination.

"There isn't a one size fits all," Stephens said. "But I will say, if someone simply refuses to get vaccinated and not comply with the federal vaccination requirement we need to comply with, that may include termination."

No test-out option is available. Per federal guidance, religious and medical exemptions may be allowed. Student employees are also subject to the requirement.

Officials at Kansas State said the mandate won't apply to the Alumni Association, the KSU Foundation and most K-State Athletics employees. It is unclear whether this is true for other schools — and which sports employees, including coaches, would be affected.

K-State football coach Chris Klieman, KU football coach Lance Leipold and KU basketball coach Bill Self have all encouraged vaccination.

Guidance puts universities in conflict with state law 

The KBOR guidance, delivered in a memo from Regents President Blake Flanders Thursday, noted the state's public universities have "hundreds" of contracts with the federal government and non compliance with the orders would "jeopardize this critical funding and the research component of the institution’s mission."

State lawmakers approved a provision in the budget earlier this year barring the use of state funds for carrying out any vaccine requirements.

It is the second time in recent weeks where federal requirements have threatened to put state agencies in conflict with that law. The Kansas National Guard said earlier this week they will use federal funds to implement a requirement their members be vaccinated, in compliance with U.S. Department of Defense rules.

More:Kansas National Guard won't use state money to enforce vaccine mandate. Legislators weighing options.

KSU President Richard Myers said legislative leaders had been informed of the Regents guidelines and said he didn't "think they are, at this point, planning anything."

"I think it is unlikely because it would result in losing substantial outside funding for our activities at the research universities," he said.

The guidance specifically instructs schools that "every effort should be made" to use federal funds to carry out the mandate, noting the "troubling and difficult" situation the schools find themselves in.

Unclear how many faculty members are vaccinated 

It is unclear what percentage of KSU faculty are currently immunized against COVID-19. While the university said more than 80% of their students had received the vaccine as of late July, it is unclear how many staff members have gotten the shots.

Emporia State and Fort Hays State officials said the schools don't have any federal contracts, so the federal contractor mandate does not apply. A Washburn official said the municipal university is not subject to the mandate. A spokesperson for Pittsburg State said the school was reviewing the guidance and would have more information next week. 

Biden has directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop a vaccine mandate for large employers. The details have not been formally released, but the smaller universities would presumably be subject to those regulations.