Kansas university workers must get COVID shots

Kansas universities will meet federal vaccine requirements despite a state law against using state funding for vaccine mandates.


State News

October 22, 2021 - 3:37 PM

The University of Kansas. Photo by Erica Hunzinger/Kansas News Service

Kansas universities are in a tight spot, stuck between federal COVID vaccine requirements and a Kansas law against using state funding for vaccine mandates. Hundreds of millions of federal dollars are on the line.

The federal government is requiring vaccines for all employees involved in federal work.

Kansas’ six state universities employ about 20,000 faculty and staff members. The Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees the schools, hasn’t said how many of those people fall under the mandate.

However, it sent a memo to the universities on Thursday warning that contracts and subcontracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars hang in the balance.

The schools get that money from myriad federal agencies, ranging from NASA and the National Science Foundation to the Department of Education and the Department of Energy.

The complexity of determining which workers are covered may result in universities requiring all staff to be vaccinated as a way to comply.

Kansas State University said it would require everyone on its payroll to get the shot.

“K-State has more than 275 federal contracts and cooperative agreements,” it said in a press release, “affecting almost every aspect of our university.”

The K-State policy doesn’t apply to students not employed by the school.

The Board of Regents memo notes that state law bars the universities from using any state funding to carry out the mandate, however. And it calls this stuck-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place situation “troubling and difficult.”

“Every effort should be made to use non-state funds and federal overhead,” the memo said, “to finance the federally mandated vaccination requirements.”

It says employees doing work under ongoing contracts have a deadline of Dec. 8 for full vaccination. And that the mandate extends beyond the workers doing direct work for the federal government, meaning it also covers anyone doing related services, such as human resources, finance and information technology.

It’s unclear how many of the state’s university employees are already vaccinated. Earlier this month, Pittsburg State University announced that 80% of its benefit-earning employees got the shots after the school offered $1,000 bonuses for doing so.

Meanwhile, the Kansas National Guard faces a similar conundrum.

It says it will be able to apply federal funds to make sure service members are vaccinated against COVID-19 as required by federal rules.

State lawmaker Pat Proctor, a Leavenworth County Republican, wrote to the Kansas National Guard earlier this month contesting its vaccine requirement.

But Kansas Adjutant General David Weishaar responded that the Kansas National Guard would tap federal money and steer clear of state allocations to carry it out.

The Kansas National Guard vaccine requirement is part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s mandate that all service members get vaccinated.