Title IX Meeting

Thomas C. Galligan Jr., LSU Interim President, speaks to the reporters about the Title IX review findings on Friday, Mar. 5, 2021 at Lod Cook Alumni Center on 3838 W Lakeshore Dr.

For months the university has told the public it can't mandate that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine due to state law.

And for months the university has been lying, reports from last week revealed.

State law does not prevent universities from issuing additional vaccine requirements, and, in fact, “Louisiana Revised Statute 17 Section 170.A(3) appears to empower LSU to require COVID-19 vaccination for students,” said the LSU Faculty Council Organizing Group in response to the university’s claims. 

Colleges and universities across the nation, both public and private, have issued vaccine mandates, and courts have upheld that course of action.

“We’ve looked at the constitutional issues as to whether we could mandate it, even though it’s not included in the state law,” said the university’s legal counsel Winston DeCuir at the June 18 LSU Board of Supervisors meeting, where the Board voted to add the vaccine to the list of mandatory vaccines upon FDA approval. “It would be very difficult right now.”

Documents obtained by The Reveille show that Loyola, Dillard and Xavier, all private colleges in New Orleans, sent emails to the Louisiana Department of Health to request permission to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine and received approval in a matter of hours. Tulane received approval the day after their request was made. 

An LDH spokesperson told The Reveille that the department makes no distinction between private and public institutions when approving requests, meaning the university could do the same. 

Contrary to DeCuir’s remarks and months of baseless claims from university leadership, it would, in reality, be both easy and legal for the university to gain approval for a vaccine mandate.

But the university clearly doesn’t — and has never — wanted a mandate. And instead of being honest about that, administrators spent months lying to the students, families and community who are supposed to trust them.

Regardless of your views on a vaccine mandate, we should all be alarmed by the university’s dishonesty.

After a year that revealed disturbing miscarriages of justice on campus for sexual and domestic violence survivors, student confidence and trust in the university have plummeted.

In February, the Galligan administration promised students that they “intend to do all [they] can to return our campus safely to pre-COVID-19 operations.” And yet, a lie preventing our only shot at normalcy passed seamlessly from one administration to the next, and the university has not done nearly enough to fulfill this premature promise.

Newly-appointed university president William Tate IV — an epidemiologist who has spent his first month in office repeating this false claim about vaccine mandates — said that a primary goal of his presidency is to rebuild trust between the administration and students. With these latest revelations about the university’s deceit, that goal is off to a rocky start.

In an interview with TigerTV, the new president said in relation to the Title IX scandal that families and students have to believe “that [the university] is safe or that [the university] at least will help [them] stay safe.”

The vaccine lies beg the question: If students cannot even trust the university to be truthful, how can they possibly trust them with their lives, health and safety?

Exposure of the university’s dishonesty has, understandably, sparked mass outrage among faculty and staff, nearly 90% of whom voted to implement a vaccine mandate

A meeting between faculty, staff and the administration on Thursday did little to calm fears about students returning to campus as the Delta variant spreads rapidly through Louisiana, especially among residents aged 18-29. 

With the recent reports about the New Orleans schools’ mandates, the university’s reasoning has shifted from a matter of “can’t” to “won’t.”

“This COVID pandemic has caused every state school in this country to evaluate an age-old question: When is government interference with a liberty interest justified?,” DeCuir said, in a remarkable change of narrative.

“The freedom to choose your own medical treatment is one of those fundamental rights in each decision we've made in this pandemic,” he continued.

Tate, too, doubled down, saying, “people have their own risk mitigation strategies, and we have to respect that while preparing to lower our collective risk." 

So, what are we expected to believe? 

Just last week administrators were telling us their hands were tied by state law, and that’s why we didn’t have a vaccine mandate in place. But now that they’ve been caught in a lie, they’re changing the story. 

Whether it concerns lies about Title IX or pandemic policy, it seems the university thinks our attention spans are as short-lived as its lazy talking points, hoping we’ll forget about scandals as quickly as they break. 

In a matter of weeks, students and faculty will be crammed into classrooms, dining halls and dorms too small to accommodate social distancing — a problem Tate said he would need four to five days to think about when asked at the Thursday meeting. 

COVID-19, by many metrics, is the worst it's ever been in Louisiana. Still, there is no “Roadmap to Fall” or any concrete decisions about pandemic protocol for the upcoming semester. The best the university has to offer is a continued, yet often ignored, mask mandate.

Soon, thousands of unvaccinated students will flood the city, putting not only the LSU community, but Baton Rouge residents at increased risk for infection.

Just a few days ago, as the positive case rate in Baton Rouge skyrocketed to 14%, almost three times the limit previously allowed for opening bars and restaurants, Tiger fans bought their football tickets for the approaching full-capacity games. 

The university has not only abandoned its responsibility to its students and faculty, but also to Baton Rouge and Louisiana as a whole. As Louisiana’s flag-ship university, the administration has failed to set an example for the rest of the state’s public schools, both in terms of integrity and public health policy. 

The university lied, and we’re paying the price.

To President Emeritus Galligan, President Tate and the rest of university leadership: Was the lie worth it?

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