Governing bodies at the University of Montana representing students and faculty have passed non-binding resolutions urging the required use of masks in all indoor and crowded outdoor settings.
They also urge that students, staff and faculty be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Because the resolutions are non-binding, both the Associated Students of the University of Montana and the UM Faculty Senate are asking UM as well as the Board of Regents to take action. They also urge support from the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education and the Board of Regents to defend the policies in court if challenged.
The ASUM more specifically considered their resolution a demand for required COVID vaccines.
The faculty senate unanimously agreed to hold a special meeting on Tuesday to make a final decision on its resolution, as the group’s first meeting wasn’t scheduled to occur until Sept. 23.
The resolution received overwhelming support from the faculty senators, with only two voting in opposition and two abstaining.
“... (The authors of the resolution) felt that the matter is urgent enough that it warranted asking the senators to vote to suspend the rules and hold a special session,” wrote Faculty Senate chair Kimber McKay in an email to the Missoulian.
The university currently requires masks in some indoor settings, such as classrooms, labs, the Curry Health Center and transportation. The face covering policy is in place through Sept. 20. UM does not require COVID-19 vaccination at this time, but other vaccines that protect against measles, mumps, rubella and many others are required by the state of Montana.
Students at UM have shown “near universal compliance” with the current policy on campus just two weeks into the semester, according to spokesperson Dave Kuntz. He added that only “an extremely small number of issues have been referred to the Office of Student Success.”
“The large majority of UM students are showing unified commitment to do everything possible to keep classes in person this semester,” Kuntz said.
In its resolution, the faculty senate says that the campus procedures for the current semester “do not include many best-practice measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” including required vaccines, physical distancing, widespread testing and masking in all indoor spaces and crowded outdoor settings.
Both resolutions from the UM Faculty Senate and ASUM note that House Bill 702, which prohibits discrimination based on a person’s vaccination status or possession of an immunity passport, could complicate things.
Despite the bill, the faculty senate indicates in the resolution that it doesn’t apply “to vaccination requirements set forth for post-secondary schools.”
ASUM noted that the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services issued guidance regarding HB 702 that postsecondary schools may impose immunization requirements as a condition of attendance.
“The ASUM calls for institutional support for any potential litigation efforts proposed by OCHE and/or the BOR against HB 702 in order to secure the authority to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all students, faculty and staff at UM,” wrote the ASUM in its resolution.
McKay anticipates that faculty from across the Montana University System will turn out for the next Board of Regents meeting scheduled for Thursday to “offer their insights and perspectives” during public comment.
The agenda for the meeting has already been released and does not include any action items pertaining to required use of masks in all indoor settings or COVID-19 vaccines.
Last spring, the Board of Regents voted to turn the decision of face coverings on campus to individual universities.