AJC On Campus: CAU goes to virtual learning; USG faculty rally for COVID-19 mandates

Several dozen people gathered near the University of Georgia's Tate Student Center on Sept. 14, 2021 for a rally aimed at allowing the school and other public universities statewide to mandate wearing masks in indoor spaces and other measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. ERIC STIRGUS/ERIC.STIRGUS@AJC.COM.

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Several dozen people gathered near the University of Georgia's Tate Student Center on Sept. 14, 2021 for a rally aimed at allowing the school and other public universities statewide to mandate wearing masks in indoor spaces and other measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. ERIC STIRGUS/ERIC.STIRGUS@AJC.COM.

Faculty members who want Georgia’s public universities to enact COVID-19 mitigation measures such as mask mandates have tried letter-writing campaigns. They’ve signed petitions. This week, they’re holding daily rallies to sway state leaders to their side.

Here’s more about that, some changes in how one Atlanta university is teaching students and a new book by one of the University of Georgia’s best-known graduates in this version of AJC On Campus.

Clark Atlanta goes virtual due to pandemic concerns

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Clark Atlanta University.

Clark Atlanta University.

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Clark Atlanta University.

Clark Atlanta University leaders last weekend decided to temporarily switch back to virtual instruction due to ongoing concerns surrounding COVID-19, becoming the first metro Atlanta college or university to make such a move this semester.

G. Dale Wesson, the university’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said in a Sept. 11 letter to students, “In order for us to ensure that we have resolved and put into place all safety protocols, we will continue delivering your academic instruction remotely and virtually. Once we have all of these things resolved, we will resume in person classes.”

The letter, obtained by local television news outlets, says the university is committed to “address oversubscribed classes as well as overcrowded classrooms so that physical distancing guidelines can be adhered.”

A university spokeswoman did not respond Monday to questions seeking more information.

Clark Atlanta, which has about 4,000 students, required students and employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine in order to be on campus, unless they received an exemption.

CAU, the state’s largest, private historically Black university, is also scaling back its homecoming activities. The university’s president, George T. French Jr., wrote a message Friday posted on its website that while the homecoming football game will still take place on Oct. 30, the annual tailgate activity will be canceled and it is reducing the number of tickets available to the public to allow for physical, social distancing. Morehouse and Spelman colleges earlier this month announced plans to limit in-person homecoming activities, citing similar concerns.

Faculty continue rallies for COVID-19 mandate measures

Professors, instructors, employees and students gathered again Tuesday for their second day of weeklong rallies pushing for additional coronavirus safety measures, particularly mask or vaccine mandates.

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Wendy Simonds holds a sign during a demonstration at the Georgia State University Campus in Atlanta, Monday, September 13, 2021. Faculty members and students from about 20 public colleges and universities in Georgia started a weeklong series of demonstrations demanding tougher COVID-19 safety measures, such as a mask mandate, in all campus buildings. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Wendy Simonds holds a sign during a demonstration at the Georgia State University Campus in Atlanta, Monday, September 13, 2021. Faculty members and students from about 20 public colleges and universities in Georgia started a weeklong series of demonstrations demanding tougher COVID-19 safety measures, such as a mask mandate, in all campus buildings. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Wendy Simonds holds a sign during a demonstration at the Georgia State University Campus in Atlanta, Monday, September 13, 2021. Faculty members and students from about 20 public colleges and universities in Georgia started a weeklong series of demonstrations demanding tougher COVID-19 safety measures, such as a mask mandate, in all campus buildings. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Several dozen people gathered at the University of Georgia, which has had the largest number of new COVID-19 cases since the start of the semester. Much of the focus was on the impact the virus is having on local hospitals. Federal data Monday showed 258 Georgians between the ages of 18 to 29 with the virus were hospitalized, the fourth-highest total in the nation behind Texas, Florida and California. Georgia is the nation’s eighth most populous state.

Alex White, an intensive care unit nurse at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center, said at Tuesday’s rally at UGA he’s cared for college-age people who are critically ill and others who’ve asked for the vaccine before being intubated. Nearly all COVID-19 patients hospitalized are unvaccinated, he said.

“It’s times for mandates,” White said to applause.

The University System of Georgia has not mandated masks or vaccines, but instead has urged both.

Faculty members are planning to continue their rallies each day through the end of the week.

An impromptu mandate debate

Not all who attend the rallies are in favor of mandates. A third-year UGA student, who identified himself as Cameron Lewis, held a handmade sign behind speakers at Tuesday’s rally that read “Not Anti-Vax. Just Anti-Mandate. Socially Distanced. Discuss with me?”

Lewis, 20, an advertising and marketing major, said he’ll wear a mask in classes, if asked. He’s against any mandates, though, saying it should be a choice. He compared his position to the ongoing debate surrounding the controversial abortion law in Texas.

“My body, my choice,” Lewis said of mandates in an interview after the rally.

Lewis said he won’t get the vaccine until ample research shows it’s completely effective at preventing COVID-19.

“I’m going to wait until the bugs are figured out,” he said.

UGA graduate student Tyler Kelley, 34, who spoke at the rally in favor of mandates, listened to Lewis and began asking his own questions. The two had a spirited debate about their positions for several minutes.

Kelley cited data that has found unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die from the virus and argued mandates can protect people. Lewis countered that the vaccines aren’t 100% effective and he shouldn’t be forced to get it.

The two agreed to perhaps share information with each other for future discussions.

Lewis said in a follow up conversation with us that he’s since altered some of his beliefs some research and talking further with people in favor of mandates.

“I know the mandate discussion is a hot topic and with a better understanding of vaccines and masks, I do not agree with every statement I made that day,” he said.

HOPE milestone

Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday the popular HOPE Scholarship has hit a major milestone, helping more than 2 million Georgia students more affordably go to college.

“The HOPE Scholarship Program has been a game-changer for our state and helped over 2 million Georgia students achieve greater opportunity,” Kemp said in a statement.

HOPE, the merit-based scholarship program started in 1993, covers most or all tuition costs for college students who maintain a minimum 3.0 grade-point average. The Georgia Lottery-funded program has been a model for state financial aid programs around the country.

Some state lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried in recent years to expand HOPE eligibility to include more low-income students as a growing percentage of college students in Georgia borrow money to pay tuition.

History-making UGA grad releases autobiography

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Mary Frances Early graduated from UGA in 1962 and is a retired educator who taught in the Atlanta school system and at Clark Atlanta University. TYSON HORNE / TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM

Mary Frances Early graduated from UGA in 1962 and is a retired educator who taught in the Atlanta school system and at Clark Atlanta University. TYSON HORNE / TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM

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Mary Frances Early graduated from UGA in 1962 and is a retired educator who taught in the Atlanta school system and at Clark Atlanta University. TYSON HORNE / TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM

Mary Frances Early is one of the University of Georgia’s most celebrated graduates. It wasn’t always this way.

Early, the first Black person to receive a degree from UGA, in 1962, was subjected to racist attacks and ostracized by some university administrators at the time.

Last year, though, UGA named its education school after Early, a retired educator. Early is releasing her autobiography, titled “The Quiet Trailblazer: My Journey as the First Black Graduate of the University of Georgia.”

UGA is planning several events later this month around the book’s launch, including distributing 500 copies to students as part of a community reading program created by the Presidential Task Force on Race, Ethnicity, and Community earlier this year.

Georgia colleges ace U.S. News rankings

Several Georgia colleges and universities were first nationally, or ranked high, in several categories on the ballyhooed annual U.S. News & World Report college academic rankings. Here’s our report on how they fared.

Marijuana use even higher among college students

A federally sponsored study released last week shows marijuana use continues to rise among college-age students and is at its highest levels since the 1980s.

Researchers found 44% reported using marijuana in the past year in 2020, compared to 38% in 2015. Daily or near daily use of marijuana rose among college students since 2015, with 8% of college students reporting using marijuana on a daily or near daily basis in 2020 compared to nearly 5% in 2015.

The study was done by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Prescription opioid misuse and nonmedical use of amphetamines continued to decline, researchers wrote. Cigarette smoking declined over the past five years to its lowest percentages in four decades, with 4% of college students reporting having smoked in the past month.

Emory sets record funding for research

Emory University officials told us Tuesday they received $894.7 million in fiscal year 2021, a record.

Research support has grown by more than 55% over the last five years, the university said. Nearly $600 million of the fiscal year 2021 total came from federal agencies.

University officials said investigators won grants for developing and evaluating COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments; addressing climate change; and advancing ideas and solutions to end health disparities and promote racial and social justice.

Actress to participate in Clark Atlanta University seminar

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Actress Keisha Knight Pulliam is partnering with Clark Atlanta University on an effort to help students considering careers as mass media arts entrepreneurs or becoming industry leaders. PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES.

Actress Keisha Knight Pulliam is partnering with Clark Atlanta University on an effort to help students considering careers as mass media arts entrepreneurs or becoming industry leaders. PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES.

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Actress Keisha Knight Pulliam is partnering with Clark Atlanta University on an effort to help students considering careers as mass media arts entrepreneurs or becoming industry leaders. PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES.

Actress Keshia Knight Pulliam, best known for her role as Rudy Huxtable in the groundbreaking hit “The Cosby Show,” will soon be appearing virtually to some Clark Atlanta University students.

The university last week announced she’s participating in a virtual seminar being organized by its Mass Media Arts department to train aspiring industry leaders and entrepreneurs through its RecognizeTheChew Class-in-Session Series. The school is partnering with Now and Later candy on the effort. A similar session is being organized at Howard University and will be led by television personality, actor, and philanthropist Terrence J.

Organizers said the program is founded on the C.H.E.W. mantra, an acronym which stands for Champion, Hustle, Empower, and Win.

Each school will receive a $10,000 donation to create a scholarship fund for participating students, according to published reports.

Coming up

The University of Georgia is scheduled today to release its weekly update of new COVID-19 cases and vaccinations. New cases have increased in each of the last four weeks. Last week’s total was 505. Some of those cases were self-reported by students and employees. UGA is also set today to hold its first of three drawings where students and employees can receive $1,000 prizes if they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19.