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New LSU System president and chancellor William F. Tate IV answers questions at a press conference during his first day on the job Tuesday July 6, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. LSU held a media availability with Tate in the LSU Tiger Card Office on the first floor of the Student Union.

New LSU President William Tate IV has been in the job less than a month and he already is coming up on a decision that will define his tenure and his strength of leadership. It’s coming fast, and it’s not about football.

The decision is whether to require all students to start school a month from now having been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Now, vaccinations are only encouraged. Instead, masks are required indoors and social distancing encouraged elsewhere, but it is almost impossible to enforce.

At last report, the vaccination rate among students was somewhere in the upper 20% range, which says that just “encouraging” vaccinations doesn’t get the job done.

Already the LSU Faculty Senate has urged mandatory vaccinations, and more than 70% report having been vaccinated themselves. The LSU Board of Supervisors has urged the Louisiana Department of Health to make vaccinations mandatory for all public schools.

For Tate and LSU, though, the time is short. Classes start Aug. 23, barely enough time for students to be fully vaccinated before the start of classes. But, accommodations can be made for those students who have at least a first shot and then get the second within the first week or two of classes.

No doubt there is pressure on Tate to do nothing more, and cautious lawyers will warn of lawsuits from anti-vaxxers.

In recent days we’ve seen once-defiant politicians stepping up to get their vaccinations in the face of a surge of COVID-19 that threatens to throw the country back into universal mask-wearing and even shutdowns of public facilities. No one wants that. And what starts at LSU is likely to make its way across Baton Rouge.

President Tate needs to step up. It is the time to begin defining how strong a leader he will be. Either he leads or signals that he is to be led.

L. JOHN HAILE

retired journalist

Baton Rouge