Academic Freedom

A State Attorney General Demands that a Professor be held "Accountable" for a Tweet

The Louisiana state attorney general seems unclear on the nature of free speech

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On December 7, Lauryn Sudduth, an assistant attorney general of the state of Louisiana, appeared at a meeting of the faculty senate at Louisiana State University to read a letter from state attorney general Jeff Landry. The letter was responding to a faculty resolution regarding vaccine requirements at the university. Landry has been active in opposing vaccine mandates. The faculty senate resolution that Landry was criticizing was sponsored in part by Robert Mann, a professor in the School of Mass Communications and formerly the press secretary to several Democratic politicians in the state.

Mann took to twitter to criticize Landry for sending "some flunkie" to LSU to read his letter. Landry responded on twitter from his official government account, criticizing Mann for his "disparaging remarks" and expressing his expectation that LSU President William Tate will hold the professor "accountable" by taking "appropriate action" for his tweet, which has "no place in our society." Landry indicated that he had expressed these views directly to Tate in a phone call, and he subsequently released a letter he had sent from the attorney general's office calling for action against Mann. The response from the university has been muted at best.

The Academic Freedom Alliance sent a public letter to LSU explaining that Mann's social media posts are protected by the university's own policies on academic freedom and by the First Amendment and that the university should publicly reaffirm that it will not sanction professors for criticizing state politicians. It is particularly disappointing that a state attorney general would demonstrate so little appreciation of the principles of free speech. As we note in the press release:

Attorney General Landry is perfectly free to express his own disagreements with Professor Mann's tweet," Whittington continued, "but the attorney general went well beyond voicing disagreement when he used his position as a public official to pressure a state university to take action against member of the faculty. That is a line that he should not have crossed, and the university has a responsibility to stand up to such pressure."

Read the whole letter here.