By Josh Archote
BATON ROUGE--LSU professors pleaded with the Board of Supervisors and upper administration Friday to allow faculty to teach remotely or at lower classroom capacity in the fall as COVID-19 spreads rapidly and strains hospitals in Louisiana.
President William Tate did not directly respond to any professors’ concerns. He said the university intends to mandate the vaccine once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants final approval.
The tension comes amid a fight between LSU administration and faculty over mandatory COVID vaccines. Although LSU has maintained that requiring vaccines presented legal challenges, Louisiana colleges need only Louisiana Department of Health approval to mandate them.
Professors are switching their focus to convincing the university to return to previous COVID-19 protocols that would allow them to teach their classes away from campus, where only around 26% of students have reported being vaccinated.
The 2021 COVID-19 protocols that LSU released Wednesday did not include a vaccine mandate or say what the school would do when the FDA start providing full approvals. News reports say that could come as soon as Labor Day for the Pfizer vaccine.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday that he expected the state Health Department to add the COVID vaccines to its list of required student vaccines after the FDA gives its full approval. Tate told the supervisors Friday that LSU will announce its mandate as soon as the FDA acts and will not wait for the Health Department to update its vaccine list.
“We will move forward with that, and hopefully the FDA operates in an expedited fashion,” Tate said Friday.
LSU’s protocols also include temporary online options only for the fewer than 5% of classes with over 100 students. They also state that unvaccinated students will be tested monthly throughout the semester.
Professors must file a request and be accepted under the federal disabilities act to teach their classes remotely in the fall.
Rosemary Peters, an associate professor of French, told the board that her 5-year-old son is immunocompromised and cannot be vaccinated.
"If I teach in person, I put him at risk," she said.
Psychology professor Jeanne Donaldson said LSU administrators are putting students and faculty at risk by forcing professors to cram into classrooms.
"There's no room for social distancing. It's not safe," she said.
History professor Meredith Veldman held up the front page of The Advocate from this morning showing stories about Baton Rouge hospitals being strained.
"We call on President Tate to honor his promise and follow the science," Veldman said. "It's unconscionable to ask faculty, staff and students to return to campus under current conditions."
Physics professor Ravi Rau said LSU should not be deterred to mandate the vaccine by legal threats from "the ignorant attorney general," Republican Jeff Landry. Rau wrote a letter to the Reveille last week criticizing the university’s reasoning behind not mandating the vaccine.
No members of the Board of Supervisors said anything during the meeting in response to the faculty appeals.
Hospitals across Louisiana are reaching a breaking point as the delta variant spreads, increasing the probability that some people may be denied care, according to The Advocate.
Cases will likely continue increasing as the fall semester begins, potentially peaking around mid-September, according to the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, created by scientists who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Classes start on Aug. 23, and the FDA has said that it is aiming to give full approval to the Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day.
Tate also did not say how long students will have to get vaccinated once it is mandated or how long the process will take given that more than 20,000 of the 35,000 students expected on the Baton Rouge campus might still need vaccines at that point.
The nine universities in the University of Louisiana System, which have 95,000 students, are taking a similar approach.
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