UK Senate Council members discuss mandating COVID-19 vaccines: “We’re in a strong position to call for a mandate”

Gillian Stawiszynski

The University of Kentucky Senate Council met at 3 p.m. on Monday, August 23 to request a vaccine mandate for the entire UK community. On August 17, 2021, Kentucky reported the highest COVID-19 positivity rate since the beginning of the pandemic.


Multiple faculty members have their own concerns about the current university vaccination rate, which has not yet been updated with freshman vaccinations. Some faculty have young children at home who can’t yet get vaccinated.


Poor air circulation in some buildings and tight-knit in-person classes are a cause for concern, history professor Akko Takenaka said.

Herman Farrell, a professor in the College of Fine Arts, said UK is in a “strong position now to call for a mandate.”


“We are in favor of a return to a residential experience in class for our students, but we also need that flexibility, he said.


Lauren Cagle, an associate professor of writing, rhetoric and digital studies, presented a survey that she worked on with others on the Senate Council, with backing from multiple department heads and other faculty. Out of 400 responses from faculty, 92.6% would like to see a vaccine mandate.


The remaining 7.4%, however, whether they attended this meeting or not, were vastly represented in this meeting.


Dr. Lee Blonder, a professor in the Department of Behavioral Science, was concerned about the efficacy of the vaccine and whether required vaccinations would be worth firing tenured professors who may disagree with the mandate. 

“UK is giving people a choice, and it’s working,” Blonder said.


VAERS, the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System for healthcare providers, was cited multiple times by faculty in this meeting. Information Technology Services engineer Kerry Boytzun introduced this website as an argument against the suggested mandate.


This website, however, has a self-report design, which means that anyone can submit symptoms they think are caused by the COVID-19 vaccine. Symptoms and deaths this website says are  caused by the vaccine are not further investigated. There is a disclaimer on the website that states there is no scientific proof that these symptoms or casualties can be tied to COVID itself.


UK immunologist Marc Kiviniemi said in response to Boytzun’s idea that the risk of catching COVID is much higher than the incredibly rare side effects of the vaccine.

Faculty also highlighted timeliness concerns of this possible mandate. If the debate isn’t resolved soon, students who do not wish to comply with mandates may have to drop out of UK mid-semester. This would be a financial issue, since every student has already paid tuition.


The meeting ended with multiple members saying the topic was “complicated.” Multiple similar debates have indeed risen at universities across the country, as proven by a recent lawsuit between Indiana University and eight of its students. The students asked for a preliminary injunction to halt the university’s vaccination mandate. The courts blocked the students’ request.


The next meeting of the UK senate is Sept. 13, 2021.