More than 100 LSU faculty members petitioning for return to online, hybrid classes this fall

A group of LSU faculty members, outraged over the university’s refusal to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, is petitioning LSU President William Tate to reinstitute online and hybrid instruction for the upcoming fall semester.

In a letter Tuesday, Aug. 3, the Faculty Council Organizing Group asks Tate to return to the policies and procedures implemented during the 2020-2021 academic year, which enabled faculty members to choose between offering their classes:

• 100% remote;
• Hybrid with any in-person component limited to 50%;
• Entirely in person but with classroom capacity limited to 50%.

“The situation in Louisiana is more dire now than at any point since the spring of 2020 when LSU went entirely remote because of the dangers posed by the pandemic,” the letter reads. “It is unconscionable that you would ask faculty, staff and students for a full return to campus under these conditions when we know these alternative options are available and that they work.”

The group, which comprises 10 members of the larger 1,700-member Faculty Council, began circulating the letter late yesterday. As of yesterday morning, more than 100 faculty members had signed on, says Robert Mann, a professor of mass communication and member of the FCOG.

The letter comes as the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant is spreading rapidly across still largely unvaccinated Louisiana, threatening the state’s entire health care delivery system and throwing a wrench into the plans of schools and universities scheduled to resume in-person classes later this month.

Though a majority of the LSU faculty supports a vaccine mandate, the administration has held off, citing legal arguments.

In a statement Tuesday, the university explained its rationale, saying: “We have to do a full analysis on when it is appropriate to encroach on an individual’s constitutionally protected fundamental liberties. Currently, the Louisiana Department of Health has not included any COVID vaccinations in the mandatory schedule for schools in Louisiana. Our state’s attorney general has also expressed his view that it is illegal to mandate a vaccine that has only received emergency use authorization. Taking these factors into consideration, as a state government entity, we do not believe mandating a vaccine is a viable option for us at this time.”

On Wednesday, Aug. 4, LSU announced that students will have to wear masks in classrooms and at campus events this fall to help fight the spread of COVID-19, but won’t have to be vaccinated to return to school. Read more on that story here.

Attorney General Jeff Landry, a conservative Republican and likely gubernatorial candidate in 2023, has suggested he will sue LSU if it mandates vaccines.

While LSU’s general counsel, Winston DeCuir, has reportedly agreed with the constitutional argument, it is not clear there is a sound legal basis for it. Earlier this week, the conservative 7th Circuit Court of Appeal in Indiana, which includes judges appointed during the Trump administration, refused to block Indiana University, which, like LSU is a publicly funded state institution, from enforcing a vaccine mandate on campus.

The court based its ruling primarily on a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1905 over a smallpox vaccine mandate. It also cited the landmark 1997 decision, Washington vs. Glucksberg, which has to do with due process rights.

“Given Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which holds that a state may require all members of the public to be vaccinated against smallpox, there can’t be a constitutional problem with vaccination against SARS-CoV-2,” the 7th Circuit decision reads.

But for now, LSU is not backing down on the vaccination issue, which is why Mann and the other faculty members are ramping up pressure on the administration to do something.

“This is not the situation we wished to be in for the semester but it is the reality that we face because of (LSU’s) failure to request for mandatory COVID vaccination on campus,” the letter reads.

LSU spokesperson Ernie Ballard says the university will announce updates to its procedures for fall later this week.

This story originally appeared in an Aug. 4 edition of Daily Report. To keep up with Baton Rouge business and politics, subscribe to the free Daily Report e-newsletter here.