About 50 faculty, staff and students from Georgia Southern gathered in the university’s Rotunda Monday morning in support of a mask mandate and stronger COVID-19 rules around campus.
Led by Georgia Southern’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the group plans to hold a protest at the Rotunda outside the Student Union every day this week.
“We know that COVID is raging right now throughout the state, particularly in Bulloch and Chatham Counties,” Michelle Haberland, president of the GS chapter, told the George-Anne student newspaper. “We’re at record numbers, and we’re not following CDC guidelines.”
Monday, Haberland spoke to the faculty at the Rotunda about the group’s goals and their efforts to get the Georgia Board of Regents to enact a mask mandate for all colleges and universities in the state system.
In addition to Georgia Southern, protests took place Monday on university system campuses in Atlanta, Albany, Augusta, Athens, Savannah, Columbus and other locations. Like Georgia Southern, protests are planned all week.
Following guidelines set by the Regents, masks are encouraged to be worn inside all buildings and classrooms at Georgia Southern, but are only required when riding on university buses or inside the student health care center.
In an email Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for Georgia Southern said the university would have no comment on the protests.
Haberland and other faculty members for state universities argue the Regents should set rules based on CDC recommendations of wearing masks indoors, especially when around people who aren’t part of someone’s household, and maintain a distance of at least six feet.
“The protest is directed at the Board of Regents and the University System of Georgia, for they have the control to require not only a mask mandate, but they could also require vaccines,” Haberland told the George-Anne.
However, the Associated Press reported last week that acting University System Chancellor Teresa MacCartney made clear that those policies aren't going to change, saying the system will follow the lead of Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican lawmakers who control the university system's purse strings.
“We are fulfilling our institutional missions to deliver higher education and services for students in a way that is best for them," MacCartney said. "Those expectations have been made clear since before the semester started. It should be no surprise. There are consequences for those not following through and doing their jobs.”
Haberland and other professors from around the state made clear that the protests are meant to show solidarity among state faculty in support of mask mandates and safer conditions, they are not meant to disrupt classes or students’ studies.
“This is not a strike, work stoppage or ‘teach-out,’” wrote Matthew Boedy, who is a professor at the University of North Georgia and president of the Georgia Conference of the American Association of University Professors. “Classes will continue at their appointed time, and education will not cease.”
Faculty groups at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University have passed resolutions calling for mask and vaccine mandates, as well as for letting campuses make their own decisions, including about whether faculty should be able to shift classes online.
A handful of professors have resigned, and at least one has been fired, because of their disagreement with system policies that don't allow universities to mandate masks.
Last year, there were also protests as some faculty and students pressed the university system to cancel a number of in-person classes. The university system mandated masks last year and let some professors teach entirely online. Some of the system's 340,000 students found themselves living on campus but attending almost all classes virtually. System leaders pledged in March that this fall would be “normal," with full classrooms, dormitories and stadiums.