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Reports on Louisiana politics, government and the people shaping state policy

Jeff Landry tries to have LSU professor censured over tweet calling assistant AG a 'flunkie'

State Attorney General Jeff Landry wants LSU Professor Robert Mann censured after Mann tweeted a comment that Landry found insulting to a member of his staff.

The staff member in question, Assistant AG Lauryn Sudduth, read aloud a letter from Landry at a Tuesday evening LSU Faculty Senate meeting in which Landry called vaccine mandates “problematic,” saying that they violate principles of religious freedom.

Landry wrote the letter in response to a Faculty Senate resolution authored by Mann and three other professors titled “A Call to Bring LSU’s Vaccine Mandate into Conformity With State Law and National Guidelines.” The resolution would call on the LSU Board of Supervisors to make required COVID-19 testing more frequent for unvaccinated and partially-vaccinated students.

Landry has shown strong opposition to vaccine mandates in the past, signing onto efforts to block mandates for healthcare workers and federal contractors.

Mann tweeted that Landry’s comments were “attacking COVID vaccines” and referred to Sudduth as “some flunkie.”

Mann later clarified that by calling Sudduth a “flunkie,” more commonly spelled as “flunky,” he did not mean to call her a dropout, but instead the dictionary definition of the word, which is similar to “subordinate.”

Landry responded by tweeting that Mann’s “disparaging remarks” about Sudduth “can not be without consequence,” adding in a thread that he spoke with LSU President William Tate IV to express his “disdain and expectation for accountability.”

In his letter to Tate, Landry argued that Mann, a tenured professor, violated the “Commitment to Community” clause in LSU’s Faculty Handbook in his alleged “personal attack” on Sudduth. Landry also said he would have expected Mann to be glad that an AG representative was present since the office is inquiring into a possible open meetings law violation by the Faculty Senate leadership that Mann raised the alarm about in October.

Landry’s office did not respond when WWNO/WRKF reached out to ask about the constitutionality and ethics of Landry’s efforts to have Mann censured.

Katie Schwartzman, director of the First Amendment clinic at Tulane Law School, told the Advocate that Mann’s tweet is protected by the First Amendment. She added that Landry’s calls for LSU to punish Mann were “deeply troubling.”

The Academic Freedom Alliance also defended Mann in a statement, saying that Landry’s calls for LSU to sanction Mann constituted “a grave threat to academic freedom.”

Tate responded to Landry’s call to punish Mann in a statement Thursday evening, saying, “LSU is committed to free and open scholarship and the freedom to debate ideas and principles without interference.”

The Faculty Senate heard the proposed changes to LSU’s COVID-19 testing policy one day after Landry joined other public officials at the State Capitol in protesting Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposal to add COVID-19 vaccines to the schedule of immunizations required for attending Louisiana schools. The majority Republican health and welfare committee voted against the policy, but Edwards still has the power to adopt it.

Aubry is a reporter, producer and operations assistant in Baton Rouge.