Georgia Tech prof faces backlash over COVID-19 ‘scamdemic’ comments

ATLANTA - Georgia Tech associate math professor John McCuan stands in his office after class on Jan. 18, 2022. McCuan criticized efforts by administrators to get students to wear masks in classes and get vaccinated without "critical thinking." His remarks have angered many alumni and current students. (Eric Stirgus/eric.stirgus@ajc.com)

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ATLANTA - Georgia Tech associate math professor John McCuan stands in his office after class on Jan. 18, 2022. McCuan criticized efforts by administrators to get students to wear masks in classes and get vaccinated without "critical thinking." His remarks have angered many alumni and current students. (Eric Stirgus/eric.stirgus@ajc.com)

Remarks made on class syllabus anger students, graduates

Longtime Georgia Tech associate math professor John McCuan does not wear a mask in his classes, remains unvaccinated and says school administrators are embracing the “scamdemic” by “bullying” faculty and students to take such preventive measures against COVID-19.

“If you’re sick, stay home. Don’t pass what you’ve got around to others. If you want an instructor who is hysterical concerning the scamdemic, perhaps I’m not your guy,” McCuan wrote in the instructions of his two classes. “I would hope you’re not going to complain about me not wearing a mask. I hope you’re not going to complain about me not being injected with experimental pharmaceuticals.”

McCuan then told students a ”little bit of critical thinking would save you from such pitfalls.”

The remarks have drawn a large number of complaints on social media. Many have denounced his views and called for his removal. Critics say McCuan’s views run counter to the school’s reputation as a world-renowned research institute that has created its own COVID-19 test.

Georgia Tech did not directly respond to the professor or the complaints about his views. The school stressed it supports free speech and noted its position encouraging mask wearing and vaccines.

“The community has responded positively to this encouragement,” the school said in a statement.

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This sign taped to the door where Georgia Tech associate math professor John McCuan teaches recommends students and faculty wear masks in campus facilities. McCuan refuses to wear a mask on campus, saying administrators are "bullying" people into such actions. (Eric Stirgus/eric.stirgus@ajc.com)

Credit: Eric Stirgus

This sign taped to the door where Georgia Tech associate math professor John McCuan teaches recommends students and faculty wear masks in campus facilities. McCuan refuses to wear a mask on campus, saying administrators are "bullying" people into such actions. (Eric Stirgus/eric.stirgus@ajc.com)

Credit: Eric Stirgus

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This sign taped to the door where Georgia Tech associate math professor John McCuan teaches recommends students and faculty wear masks in campus facilities. McCuan refuses to wear a mask on campus, saying administrators are "bullying" people into such actions. (Eric Stirgus/eric.stirgus@ajc.com)

Credit: Eric Stirgus

Credit: Eric Stirgus

Hannah Theriault, who received an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering from Georgia Tech last spring, said the professor is engaging in “scientific disinformation.” She doesn’t want him teaching.

“Hearing individuals in a research institution in a place of power supporting these conspiracy theories is dangerous,” said Theriault, 23, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois.

Georgia Tech has had a surge in positive COVID-19 cases, averaging 57 positive cases a day in the last week. Nearly 1,000 cases have been reported in January, more than twice December’s total of 420 cases. Georgia Tech has more than 40,000 students, the second-largest enrollment of any Georgia college or university.

Georgia Tech is part of the University System of Georgia, which does not require masks in most classrooms or vaccines, though both are encouraged. Many Georgia professors have signed petitions demanding mask or vaccine mandates. Some have bucked system guidelines, requiring students to wear masks in their classes.

Few faculty members have written or spoken against wearing masks or vaccinations.

McCuan said in a 30-minute interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he’s tussled with administrators before concerning his position after officials learned he was meeting with students without wearing a mask.

The professor said he hadn’t heard any direct complaints from students. McCuan did not write anything in his instructions about students who wear masks or are vaccinated. Nearly all of the students in his last class on Tuesday wore masks.

McCuan, who said he’s been teaching at Georgia Tech nearly 25 years, does not get flu shots or other vaccinations. He said he’s learned through his teaching career to stay away from people who may be sick and limits social interaction.

Compliance with measures such as vaccinations, without debate, is “dangerous,” he said.

“People don’t know much of anything about it, but they’re happy to tell other people what to do,” he said.

Federal research, though, has concluded Georgia teachers and other staff who wear masks had a significantly lower rate of COVID-19 infection.

McCuan’s faculty page contains a picture of someone who appears to be wearing a burqa, which many people found offensive. He said he included the image to show how some people are required to wear certain items.

“I think wanting to bully people around and get some thugs to tell people what to do is a bad direction. It’s a bad thing to get people to do. It’s dangerous,” he said.

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