Georgia State professor files complaint over denial to teach remotely

Professor’s doctor says health condition puts him at risk if he contracts COVID-19

A prominent Georgia State University professor has filed a complaint with federal officials after he says the school denied his request to teach remotely.

Dan Immergluck said in interviews with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution his request was rejected despite paperwork from his doctor stating Immergluck has a heart condition that could jeopardize his health if he contracts COVID-19.

“All teaching, research should be done remotely wherever possible,” the doctor, whose name Immergluck redacted for privacy concerns, wrote on a university medical certification form.

“He is at increased risk of complications/severe illness if he were to contract COVID-19,” the doctor wrote in response to another question on the form asking about the employee’s limitations.

Immergluck said Georgia State pulled him from teaching his classes this semester when he appealed the university’s denial. He said Georgia State has docked his pay by 40%, reflecting the share of his workload devoted to teaching.

Georgia State declined comment Monday.

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Immergluck is one of many Georgia faculty members with various ailments or medical conditions who say their college or university has unfairly denied requests to teach off campus since the coronavirus pandemic began. Immergluck believes he is among the first tenured faculty members in the University System of Georgia, which oversees Georgia State’s operations, to file a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint. He wants the University System to require students and employees to wear masks in classrooms and be vaccinated, which it currently doesn’t do.

“I want them to change their policy, so fewer people would need accommodations,” Immergluck said in a telephone interview. “To me, clearly, they are not following the law.”

Georgia State’s website says that accommodations, such as teaching remotely, can be approved on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act for faculty members with a “disability to perform the essential functions of his or her job.” Immergluck forwarded an August email from a university administrator to faculty stating ADA accommodation requests “will be reviewed in accordance with pre-pandemic guidelines.” Immergluck said an ADA expert told him current pandemic conditions need to be considered.

Immergluck said Georgia State officials told him his appeal was denied in part because of the school’s goal to teach more classes in person. In an email to faculty last month, a university academic affairs administrator noted “significant evidence” that some students struggled with online learning last school year. That email also says in bold that “it is not possible for each instructor to make an individual decision about whether their classes will be taught in person or online based on their own assessment of risk.” Georgia State last year had nearly 54,000 students, the largest enrollment of any university in the state.

The University System last school year, amid pressure from faculty, required students and employees to wear masks in classrooms and other campus facilities if social distancing could not be done. This school year, the system and its Board of Regents are encouraging, but not mandating, masks in classrooms. Many faculty members have unsuccessfully tried through petitions, letter-writing campaigns and rallies to get the system to impose a mask mandate and other measures. Georgia State staffer Cody Mullins Luedtke was recently fired by the university after refusing to teach without masks in her classes.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Immergluck, 60, has been at Georgia State for more than four years and taught at Georgia Tech for 12 years before that. He’s a nationally recognized expert on affordable housing issues who’s written four books and sits on the editorial boards of four peer-reviewed academic journals.

Immergluck said he taught all of his classes remotely last year, encountered no problems with administrators and got excellent reviews from students.

Immergluck is currently overseeing a capstone project with some graduate students and working on a book. Immergluck, though, wishes he was also teaching his classes. He said he feels disillusioned by this dispute.

“I would like to be at a place where my administration cares about my health, my basic fundamental health, and is not willing to put my life at risk for a Board of Regents political policy,” he said.