ATLANTA – The University System of Georgia is trying to fend off a rebellion from a group of University of Georgia faculty determined to impose a mask mandate in violation of system policy.
A letter from Jeffrey Bennetzen, a geneticist at UGA, dated Sept. 20 served notice of plans for the mask mandate to discourage the spread of COVID-19.
“In order to protect our students, staff and faculty colleagues, we will wear masks and will require all of our students and staff to wear masks in our classes and laboratories until local community transmission rates improve, despite the ban on mask mandates and the USG policy to punish, and potentially fire, any faculty taking this action,” the letter stated.
Georgia Democrats are siding with the faculty on the issue. Democratic members of the state House Higher Education Committee called on Gov. Brian Kemp last week to drop his opposition to mask mandates on university system campus and leave the decision to local administrators at the system’s 26 colleges and universities.
Kemp has consistently opposed both mask and vaccine mandates as divisive, instead urging Georgians to wear masks and get vaccinated voluntarily.
Teresa MacCartney, the system’s acting chancellor, defended that policy at a Board of Regents meeting two weeks ago and again in a written response to Bennetzen’s letter dated Wednesday.
In the letter, MacCartney reported that cases of COVID-19 are declining at campuses across the university system. The 77 cases reported at UGA this week marked a sharp decrease from previous weeks, she wrote.
At the same time, only eight of 1,167 tests for the virus came back positive, the lowest rate since UGA began surveillance testing last year, she wrote.
“Due to this decline in transmission, your interest to disregard USG policy and require masks ‘until local transmission rates improve’ is not necessary,” MacCartney wrote to Bennetzen.
MacCartney also cited an executive order Kemp issued in May prohibiting any entities affiliated with state government – including the university system – from imposing vaccine mandates.
“We know the single most effective way to keep from getting the virus that causes COVID-19 is to get vaccinated, and the system has committed to making the vaccines as accessible as possible to everyone,” she wrote. “This effort is critical, and I am asking for everyone’s help as we focus on vaccination to protect our communities.”
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.