Arkansas State University Chancellor Kelly Damphousse, a former prison guard in Alberta, Canada, doesn’t want to run his university like a penitentiary when students return this fall.
Unlike other colleges – mostly private ones – that mandate students be vaccinated before returning to classes, Damphousse is “strongly encouraging, but not requiring” the vaccinations. Rhodes College in Memphis announced it would fine returning students $1,500 if they did not receive the COVID-19 shots.
“Before, we mandated the use of masks to protect others,” he said. “I’m less comfortable mandating vaccinations.”
He added that because the vaccinations are yet to be federally approved and instead are administered under an emergency authorization, he’s also hesitant to require the shots.
Gov. Asa Hutchison signed into law measures that prohibit state and local governments from requiring vaccinations on April 28, long after Damphousse decided not to force students and employees to become vaccinated.
Student athletes and members of the band and spirit squads will have to either receive vaccinations or be tested before making trips with the school.
Last year, when the pandemic began raging and thousands fell ill, ASU officials mandated mask-wearing for students, instructors and staff. They also had to find more classrooms on campus to meet regulations for social distancing and keep students at least six feet apart.
Some classes were held in work areas, others in the school’s gymnasium and Convocation Center. Workers also installed Plexiglas shields and hand sanitation stations, and the university bought bleach and other cleaners. It was an expensive venture; Damphousse didn’t immediately have the cost of the changes, other than it was “in the millions of dollars.”
Damphousse said ASU administrators will both dispel any myths about COVID and the vaccinations, and they will monitor health numbers when students return this fall. If infections rise — especially in light of the new Delta variation of the strain — the university will return to its safety precautions of mandated mask-wearing, social distancing in classrooms and more accessibility to online courses.
For Damphousse, who took over the ASU chancellor’s position in Jonesboro in 2017, this has been both the hardest year and his best year.
“What made it the best was seeing how well our employees and students all responded to challenge after challenge,” he wrote in a newsletter to ASU staff.