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EDITORIAL: Back down, Mr. Miyares

<p>It is clear that Miyares is likely to continue making unsolicited changes that actively harm the University community.&nbsp;</p>

It is clear that Miyares is likely to continue making unsolicited changes that actively harm the University community. 

Republican Jason Miyares took office Jan. 15 as Virginia's attorney general, replacing Democrat Mark Herring. Since then, he has quickly set about making changes. In less than two weeks of being in office, he has fired University counsel Tim Heaphy — an abnormal move — and issued a legal opinion that could rollback vaccine mandates for all Virginia public universities. Indeed, the University has done just that. Currently, neither students nor faculty are required to be vaccinated at U.Va. It is clear that Miyares is likely to continue making unsolicited changes that actively harm the University community. Mr. Miyares — stop making decisions that fundamentally affect our lives without first consulting us. 

Before even taking office as the attorney general, Miyares decided to clean house, firing about 30 people including Heaphy, who was on leave from the University serving as chief investigative counsel for the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. An attorney general has never been so quick to remove a lawyer representing a school. Moreover, there is little reason for Heaphy’s removal. University administration has spoken highly of Heaphy, who received great praise for his review criticizing local law enforcement after the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017. This firing was disrespectful and an utter abuse of power. Before making decisions that so extensively affect the lives of students on Grounds, Miyares must consult students and faculty. 

This is not the only action that serves as cause for concern. Miyares’ legal opinion states that without authority explicitly granted by the General Assembly, public universities cannot require COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of student enrollment or in-person attendance. While University administration acknowledged that the legal opinion does not “have the force of law,” they still said it “warrant[s] careful consideration.” Miyares’ opinion was clearly a factor in rolling back vaccine requirements, and this puts us all at risk. The central argument made by the University in early January was that those who are vaccinated, boosted and without chronic health conditions will likely not develop serious symptoms should they contract COVID-19. While we have already noted that this reasoning was flawed, reversing all vaccine requirements clearly harms public health. Simply put, Miyares’ opinion jeopardizes the safety of our community. COVID-19 vaccinations are the best way to protect ourselves and each other from death and hospitalization in an ongoing pandemic.

Without a vaccine mandate, it will also likely be difficult for the University to continue adapting to the changes of the coronavirus. New strains of the COVID-19 virus continue to be unpredictable — for which we must develop vaccines to effectively combat. Currently, Pfizer has announced plans to begin vaccine trials that specifically target the omicron variant. However, the University no longer has guidelines in place to mandate students or faculty get vaccinated. While vaccination rates are currently very high, there is no way to know how many students or faculty will still get the vaccine if it is no longer required. The University has expressed this very concern itself. 

Attorney General Miyares has gone too far. No attorney general should fire responsible and highly-praised counsel — without consulting the University community — nor should he take away measures that ensure our safety. With Youngkin as governor and Miyares as attorney general, new policies are emerging that compromise our public health and involvement in our own education. Miyares’ newfound political power should not give him justification to ignore the voices of those who have long since attended and served at the University. Attorney General Miyares, you promised to keep Virginia “safe and secure.” It is now your responsibility to follow through —  listen to the knowledge of those who live, work at and attend the University. 

The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, their Senior Associate and an Opinion Columnist. The board can be reached at eb@cavalierdaily.com.

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