A Nicholls State University professor issued an apology amid parents’ concerns over him offering students bonus points if they receive the COVID-19 vaccine and then endorse it through social media.
In an email, Dr. Theodore Alivio, an assistant chemistry professor, told his students he would award them five extra credit points if they take a picture while receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and then post it on Instagram or any other social media platform.
“Did you know that vaccines are 100% safe and backed up by science (not rushed, this is new mRNA technology!)? Did you know that if you take the vaccine, you’re already the coolest and awesomest person in a party? Bragging rights,” the email reads.
Nicola, mother of one of Alivio’s students, said the email concerned her for many reasons. She addressed her issues with Alivio and Nicholls administration.
“You have no right to use your power as an educator and controller of their grades to influence a decision they may or may not make regarding their personal health. Your political, personal, medical decisions, etc. are yours to make, and the students have the right to make their own,” she wrote to Alivio.
Nicola also took issue with the professor calling the vaccine completely safe. She wrote: “Your email suggested that the vaccine is 100% safe, are you willing to accept responsibility for the unknown long-term effects of this vaccine you are bribing the kids to take for 5 extra credit points?”
On Monday, Alivio rescinded the extra credit opportunity and apologized.
“While it was not my intention at all to put you in a position to pressure you to get vaccinated, I realized that to other people, it will appear that I am pressuring you to do something that you feel like you don’t want to do in the name of extra credit,” he wrote to his students. “For that, I sincerely apologize for my actions. From hereon forward, everything extra credit in this course will just be about chemistry and nothing else.”
He also apologized for calling the vaccine “100% safe.”
“No studies have shown this, and some people have allergic reactions to it. That makes the extra credit opportunity not available to everyone, which is unfair,” he said.
Nicola, who asked for her last name to be omitted to keep her child’s anonymity, also received responses from Nicholls President Dr. Jay Clune and Dr. Kaisa Young, Chemistry and Physical Sciences Department Head. Clune responded to her concerns quickly, Nicola said, and Young spoke with Alivio after receiving her email.
“I appreciate and understand your concern. As faculty, we are also deeply concerned about the education and the safety of our students, but we also respect their personal lives and decisions. Please accept our sincere apologies,” Dr. Young wrote to Nicola.
Jerad David, Director of Communications and university spokesperson, said Clune immediately communicated to other Nicholls officials that offering extra credit for taking the vaccine was not allowed.
“At the end of the day, while we encourage everyone to get the vaccine, it’s their choice. So we can’t offer classroom credit for something that is somebody’s choice,” David said.
Nicola said she received the best results she hoped for, but Alivio’s message to his students still leaves her feeling “very uneasy.”
“Most kids this age are trying to fit in and find their place in society. Being encouraged to be a ‘cool kid’ is similar to being encouraged to wear a straitjacket and losing the freedom to express their own beliefs,” she told the Times. “Their teachers have a strong influence at this age, and this professor, in my opinion, abused his position.”
David said no disciplinary action is being considered at this time, but the administration aims to further educate the rest of the faculty on why credit shouldn’t be offered for such action.
“We want our students to get vaccinated, but we want it to be their choice. We’re not mandating anyone to get the vaccine. We just want everyone to make an educated decision. We understand that for some people, it may not necessarily be the right thing…And that’s okay,” he said. “But we do encourage those who can get the vaccine or are willing to get the vaccine to do so just to keep the larger campus community just that little bit safer.”
Alivio could not be reached before deadline.