Georgia university system leader defends COVID prevention methods

A group of protesters from the United Campus Workers of Georgia, Local 3265, rallies Aug. 10, 2021, urging the University System of Georgia to institute a policy requiring everyone wear masks or be vaccinated to be on campus, outside the building in downtown Atlanta, where the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia is held. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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A group of protesters from the United Campus Workers of Georgia, Local 3265, rallies Aug. 10, 2021, urging the University System of Georgia to institute a policy requiring everyone wear masks or be vaccinated to be on campus, outside the building in downtown Atlanta, where the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia is held. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

More faculty groups push for measures that would allow mask mandates

The head of Georgia’s university system gave her most vigorous public defense Thursday morning of the system’s coronavirus prevention efforts, and warned of disciplinary action against anyone not following the system’s guidelines.

Acting University System of Georgia Chancellor Teresa MacCartney made the comments during a state Board of Regents meeting, despite new demands Thursday afternoon by faculty groups to enact a mask mandate and rising numbers of new positive COVID-19 cases at its largest universities. The University of Georgia, for example, on Wednesday reported 505 new positive cases during a recent seven-day stretch.

The University System recommends, but doesn’t require, everyone wear masks in its campus buildings. It also recommends, but does not require COVID-19 vaccines for students and employees.

MacCartney said the expectations of students and state leaders is to provide safe, in-person learning.

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Teresa MacCartney is the acting chancellor of the University System of Georgia. PHOTO CREDIT: University System of Georgia.

Teresa MacCartney is the acting chancellor of the University System of Georgia. PHOTO CREDIT: University System of Georgia.
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Teresa MacCartney is the acting chancellor of the University System of Georgia. PHOTO CREDIT: University System of Georgia.

“Those expectations have been made clear since before the semester started. It should be no surprise,” she said. “There are consequences for those not following through and doing their jobs.”

One longtime University of Georgia professor who requires students to wear masks in his classes was warned last week he faces disciplinary action if he continues such actions or moves to teaching remotely without approval.

MacCartney laid out the ongoing safety efforts taken by its university presidents and administrations, such as distributing 432,000 face masks and campaigns to get students vaccinated. She described actions such as a Georgia State University faculty member who took over managing a lab and successfully encouraged all of her students to wear masks.

Many faculty members, though, want mask mandates. Faculty leaders at Georgia State, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia’s Franklin College, in separate meetings Thursday, voted in favor of measures giving administrators at their universities latitude to enact a mask mandate and other safety measures.

“USG policy needlessly puts staff, students, faculty members, their family members, and community members at risk, as well as overburdening our already stressed hospitals and front-line medical workers,” read the Franklin College faculty resolution.

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At least two dozen people gathered at Georgia State University's Atlanta campus on Sept. 9, 2021 for a "die-in" demonstration for additional safety measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at the school. PHOTO CREDIT: United Campus Workers of Georgia.

At least two dozen people gathered at Georgia State University's Atlanta campus on Sept. 9, 2021 for a "die-in" demonstration for additional safety measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at the school. PHOTO CREDIT: United Campus Workers of Georgia.
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At least two dozen people gathered at Georgia State University's Atlanta campus on Sept. 9, 2021 for a "die-in" demonstration for additional safety measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at the school. PHOTO CREDIT: United Campus Workers of Georgia.

Others voiced support for MacCartney’s position. The University of North Georgia’s College Republicans released a statement Thursday commending the University System for standing up against “pressure from anti-freedom radical leftists.”

Masks and vaccination mandates have been ongoing battles that have reached the highest levels of government. Gov. Brian Kemp late Thursday threatened legal action to block President Joe Biden’s new federal vaccine requirements that private-sector businesses with more than 100 workers order their staffers be vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19.

MacCartney cited Kemp’s ongoing opposition to mask mandates in her remarks to the board.

“We continue to be in alignment with the governor’s expectations and requirements for state agencies through this pandemic,” she said, at one point noting the $2.4 billion the system received in state aid this fiscal year for its 26 colleges and universities.

The Regents members in attendance, nearly of whom weren’t wearing masks during the meeting, applauded after MacCartney concluded her remarks. Board chairman Sachin Shailendra declined comment Thursday.

Faculty groups at 19 University System schools have committed to daily demonstrations next Monday through Friday to push for stronger safety measures.

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