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Attorney General Jeff Landry, center, answers a question during Landry's news conference at the Livingston Building to discuss details on his lawsuit, Landry v. Gallo, and "discussion of human resource issues." Tuesday April 20, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. Sandra Schober, H.R. Director, left, and Civil Division Director, Alicia Wheeler, right, watch.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, incensed by an LSU professor’s tweet calling his assistant a “flunky,” demanded this week that the university’s president do something to punish the professor.

Bob Mann, a tenured mass communications professor at LSU and a prolific Twitter user, authored the offending tweet. It read: “Louisiana AG Jeff Landry sending some flunkie to the LSU Faculty Senate meeting today to read a letter attacking covid vaccines is quite the move from a guy who considers himself ‘pro-life.’”

Mann sent his missive during a meeting Tuesday where he and other faculty members were pushing for a stricter vaccine policy at the school. Landry has been a leading opponent of COVID vaccines in Louisiana; he brought an anti-vaccine activist to a legislative hearing this week.

The term “flunky” refers to someone who performs menial or miscellaneous duties, according to Merriam-Webster.

The remark set off Landry, a conservative Republican thought to be a candidate for governor in 2023. The attorney general took to Twitter himself Wednesday to lash out against Mann, saying “his disparaging remarks about this LSU alumna cannot be without consequence.” Landry, the chief legal officer for the state, said he had spoken with LSU President William Tate and “expressed (his) disdain and expectation for accountability.”

“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.”

It would be an extraordinary move for LSU to punish a tenured professor for such commentary about a public official. Two academic free-speech groups voiced their support for Mann and pointed out public university professors have protections for such speech.

Tate said in a statement Thursday afternoon, "As president of LSU, I am deeply committed to First Amendment rights. LSU is committed to free and open scholarship and the freedom to debate ideas and principles without interference.”

Katie Schwartzman, director of the First Amendment clinic at Tulane Law School, said there’s no question that Mann’s speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and that LSU punishing him for the tweets would violate the First Amendment.

“The law is clear that he has a right to state his personal opinion without fear of being fired or otherwise punished by the government,” Schwartzman said. “It’s just deeply troubling for one of the most powerful law enforcement officers in the state of Louisiana to call for discipline against a citizen for exercising his right to free speech.”

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Landry’s office also didn’t respond to messages seeking comment over the flap. The Landry assistant whom Mann called a “flunky,” Lauryn Sudduth, likewise didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Landry made his complaint official in a letter dated Thursday, reiterating his problem with Mann. 

Mann, an outspoken liberal, dismissed the possibility of being fired for the tweet as “silly.” And he noted that he himself was a “flunky” for two decades, having worked for former U.S. Sens. Russell Long and John Breaux and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, all Democrats.

But he worried that Landry’s efforts, especially as a potential future governor, could have a “chilling effect” on other faculty. He also said the AG’s tweet was ironic, given Landry’s past pronouncements in favor of free speech and against “cancel culture.”

“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,” Mann said. “It has the potential for a much more chilling effect on faculty beyond me.”

The university president reports to LSU’s Board of Supervisors, which is appointed by the governor.

Mann had a field day on Twitter after Landry’s tweets, which drew hundreds of comments, many of them ridiculing the attorney general. He thanked Landry for helping him sell copies of his latest book – saying he had had his best day of sales in weeks – and criticized LSU for not speaking out in favor of free speech on campus.

As Mann noted, Landry’s effort to get Mann punished cut against the AG’s past pronouncements about free speech. Last year, after meeting at the White House about social media platforms, Landry tweeted: “We have the right to free speech and expression by all individuals, no matter the viewpoint!”

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