LSU Prof Resigns After Politician He’s Shared Years-Long Beef With Is Elected Guv

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A tenured professor at Louisiana State University said Sunday that he was resigning in response to the outcome of the state’s recent gubernatorial election, explaining he would step down in an effort to avoid putting the school he loves in the crosshairs of the new governor-elect, a hard-line Republican who bayed for his blood in a skirmish over a critical tweet two years ago.

Robert Mann, who chairs the university’s journalism department, announced in a thread on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he plans to wrap up his long career at LSU next summer.

“My reasons are simple: The person who will be governor in January has already asked LSU to fire me,” he wrote. “And I have no confidence the leadership of this university would protect the Manship School [of Mass Communication] against a governor’s efforts to punish me and other faculty members.”

Mann was referring to Jeff Landry, Louisiana’s attorney general, who was declared the winner of a fierce gubernatorial race on Saturday after securing more than 51 percent of the vote. He had already gotten the seal of approval from former President Donald Trump during his campaign.

Landry, who flipped the seat held for the last eight years by his Democratic predecessor, said in a victory speech that his success showed “we the people in this state are going to expect more out of our government from here on out.”

In an interview with The Daily Beast on Sunday night, Mann called himself “the biggest irritant on my campus” to conservative officials like Landry.

“I’m proud of that; I’ve tried to be that,” he said. “I’ve done it because I have tenure, because I’m protected under the First Amendment. But this is not going to be a governor who I think has any respect for that. That’s what’s changed.”

Landry, 52, has been a staunch champion of a number of controversial Louisiana laws in recent years, including its near-total abortion ban with no exceptions for rape and incest, and a bill banning gender-affirming health care for transgender minors. Along the campaign trail, he railed against the “woke agenda,” particularly on college campuses, and pushed to restrict access to “sexually explicit” books in schools, which critics have said could result in LGBTQ+ literature being banned.

During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a skeptical Landry also took steps to challenge the efficacy of masking and vaccines, including by filing a number of lawsuits over vaccine mandates. In December 2021, he sent an aide to an LSU Faculty Senate meeting where vaccine requirements were being debated—leading Mann to tweet disparagingly about Landry “sending some flunkie [sic]... to read a letter attacking covid vaccines.”

The letter called vaccine mandates “problematic” for violating people’s right to religious freedom, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Mann said in his tweet that it was “quite the move for someone who considers himself ‘pro-life.’”

A day later, Landry announced that he’d reached out to William F. Tate IV, LSU’s president, to personally request he punish Mann.

“This type of disrespect and dishonesty has no place in our society—especially at our flagship university by a professor,” he tweeted. “I hope LSU takes appropriate action soon.” His office then sent a letter to Tate formally demanding the school take disciplinary action.

In a statement issued shortly after, Tate neither condemned nor defended Mann, but instead noted that LSU was “committed to free and open scholarship and the freedom to debate ideas and principles without interference.”

The school didn’t move to punish Mann, the professor told The Daily Beast. But Tate and the school had waited nearly a full day to comment on the attorney general’s public demands. Before the statement was released, Mann said, there was “just total radio silence” from university leadership. “No one called me to say, ‘Hey, we got your back,’” he said.

“I think the only reason they even bothered to finally make any comment was that there were just too many reporters hounding them to say something,” he added.

A LSU spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Even at the time, too, it was already evident that Landry was eyeing higher office. In a December 2021 interview with The Advocate, Mann observed, “This is a guy who’s clearly running for governor. When he calls the president of the university, he’s talking to someone he understands could be governor in two years.”

Now, should Landry choose to come after him again, or his department or the university, Mann said, he has “doubts” that he’d be met with much of a fight. “If Landry really wants to stick his fingers in the pie, I don’t expect that the people who run LSU or any other higher education institute in the state will have the courage—or even really the ability—to defy him for very long, if at all,” he said.

Landry’s push to get LSU to punish Mann had “the potential for a much more chilling effect on faculty beyond me,” the professor told The Advocate, a phrase he echoed on Sunday night.

“I think that he and his allies are avowed enemies of tenure and academic freedom,” Mann said. “And that’s going to continue to have a chilling effect on campus—people are just going to be more careful about what they say, maybe a little more tentative about their research and how they talk about it.”

It could also “severely impact” the university’s ability to attract new talent to the faculty in the future, he added.

A representative for Landry did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.

In his Sunday tweet thread, Mann said that, given the “cowardice and appeasement” he’d already seen from top LSU officials, “it’s clearly best to remove myself from the equation to avoid any harm to the school I love.”

Mann told The Daily Beast that the 18 years he spent at LSU have been some of the best of his career. “I love my work. I love my students,” he said. “The school has supported my research, the books I’ve written since I’ve been here. I won’t have that anymore, and I’ll miss that.”

Still, the choice to step down isn’t about making himself a martyr, he emphasized.

“I can retire. I’m going to be fine,” he said. “I’m certainly not falling on my sword.” He added that he likely would have retired within the next few years regardless; the election just expedited those plans.

Mann also wanted to leave on his own terms. “Would I win a fight to keep my job if Landry and his people came after me? Probably,” he wrote in a later email. “But I didn’t want my last year or two or three to be about an ugly fight to keep my job. That wouldn’t be good for my school or my students.”

Still, Mann remains concerned that the state, under a Landry administration, will neglect or even actively try to dismantle higher education. He’s long suspected it.

“The minute that I knew Landry wanted me fired and willing to call the president to demand it,” he tweeted on Sunday, “I knew there would be dark days for LSU if he won.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.