A professor called a public official “someone foolish”. The state attorney general wants him punished.
University faculty and senate meetings are usually not attended by state officials, but at Louisiana State University Encounter On Tuesday, a deputy state attorney general showed up. Lauryn Sudduth took the microphone to read aloud a letter from her boss, Attorney General Jeff Landry. The letter called the obligation of Covid-19 vaccines “problematic” because they violate the principles of freedom of religion. LSU requires that students be fully immunized or have their spring schedule suspended, although they are eligible for medical and personal exemptions.
âAny attempt to retaliate or discriminate against a student who chooses to oppose would be a violation of state law,â Sudduth read, âand may subject the university and its employees to lawsuits and liabilities. “
Later that evening, Robert Mann, a journalism professor, tweeted his disapproval.
“Louisiana AG Jeff Landry sending a lackey to the LSU faculty Senate meeting today to read a letter attacking covid vaccines is quite the gesture of a guy who considers himself ‘pro-life’,” Mann wrote.
Louisiana AG Jeff Landry sending a lackey to the LSU faculty Senate meeting today to read a letter attacking covid vaccines is quite the gesture of a guy who considers himself “pro-life.”
– Robert Mann (@RTMannJr) December 8, 2021
Landry apparently took issue with Mann’s comment. In response, he tweeted that he had asked William F. Tate IV, president of Louisiana State University, to inflict “consequences” and “responsibilities” for the insult against Landry’s staff member.
His derogatory remarks about this former LSU student cannot be without consequence. I spoke with President Tate and expressed my disdain and my expectation of responsibility.
– AG Jeff Landry (@AGJeffLandry) December 8, 2021
As a full professor, Mann said he was not seriously worried about his job. But on Thursday morning, he said he was troubled he hadn’t seen a comment from LSU management on Landry’s remarks.
âThis guy has a pretty decent chance to be governor in two years. He’s a clear candidate for governor, âsaid Mann, who previously covered state policy as a reporter and then served as press secretary to several Democratic politicians in the state. “It’s a really scary message to all faculty members across Louisiana that you better not upset this guy.” If universities don’t stand up for us now, don’t stand up for professors’ right to free speech now, what will they do when he’s governor? “
On Thursday afternoon, after this story was published, an LSU spokesperson sent The Chronicle a statement from the Tate. “As president of LSU, I am deeply committed to First Amendment rights,” the statement said. “LSU is committed to providing a free and open scholarship and the freedom to debate ideas and principles without interference.”
Landry’s office did not respond to a phone call and email requesting comment.
Adam Steinbaugh, an attorney for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said Mann’s speech was clearly protected by the First Amendment.
âWhen you have the Louisiana State General Counsel calling for action against a faculty member for protected speech,â said Steinbaugh, âcorrect action is inaction. The university cannot retaliate against him.
In an interview the morning before Tate’s statement, Steinbaugh also said he believes LSU should say something. âIt is important for the university to affirmatively defend the First Amendment rights of its students and faculty,â he said. “They have to be able to explain and explain to the public, and sometimes to lawmakers, or to the chief state counsel, that the First Amendment protects this speech.”