Gov. Kevin Stitt expressed his appreciation toward OU Student Government Association for contacting his office in a less than 100-word response to the association's 21-page letter detailing its opposition to Senate Bill 658 and Stitt’s Executive Order 2021-16 on Oct. 4.
SB 658 states that certain entities cannot mandate vaccines, mask for the unvaccinated or require vaccine passports. Executive Order 2021-16, issued May 28, bans mask mandates in all “buildings and office spaces, owned or leased by the State of Oklahoma and open to the public.”
The letter amassed around 450 signatures from the OU community. It requested the governor rescind his executive order or state that universities are not included under “state agencies,” which would exempt OU from the conditions of the order.
SGA also requested the Oklahoma Legislature repeal a section of the Oklahoma State Statutes writing SB 658 into state law or exempt entities like OU from SB 658’s restrictions.
OU President Joseph Harroz announced in an Oct. 29 email that the university will follow an executive order from President Joseph Biden requiring all federal employees to receive World Health Organization-approved COVID-19 vaccines by Dec. 8. This policy does not affect students who are not OU employees, and those who are employees can submit requests for medical or religious accommodations.
The announcement followed a press release from the OU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, where the organization said Biden’s executive order “supersedes any and all state or local laws, regulations, or gubernatorial executive orders.”
Stitt did not respond to any of the association's requests, but he wrote it is important he hears its “concerns, ideas and hopes” and thanked the association for its role as active citizens of Oklahoma.
“It seemed as though it (Gov. Stitt’s response) was a computer-generated response, which was pretty disappointing,” SGA President Tavana Farzaneh said. “As the governor of Oklahoma, the bare minimum is to respond to constituents.”
Farzaneh said the letter was also sent to all Oklahoma legislators, and SGA received responses from a few elected officials.
Sen. George E. Young (D-Oklahoma City) wrote in a letter that he would’ve liked to sign this letter and expressed his support for SGA’s cause. Sen. Mary Boren (D-Norman) also helped SGA’s letter gain Stitt’s attention, Farzaneh said.
Crispin South, the Chair of the Undergraduate Student Congress, agreed with Farzaneh’s disappointment but said he wasn’t surprised by Stitt's response.
“Governor Stitt’s track record has not always lent itself well to actual engagement with constituents and opinions that he does not necessarily like. … I was extremely disappointed, but I was not at all surprised,” South said.
South said SGA knew Stitt would likely not fulfill its request but still felt it was the association’s duty as representatives of the student body to voice its concerns and attempt to be heard by legislatures. Regardless, South said this “non-response response” was still upsetting.
“For him to just brush it off and not give us any kind of thoughtful response, I think is frankly insulting,” South said. “I know that the governor is probably extremely busy, however, I think it’s still incumbent upon elected leaders to make time for their constituents.”