Two employees die from COVID-19, two similar statements released

UGA Professor: “It’s obviously not an accident”


Andy Cole, Editor-in-Chief

STATESBORO — Just four days apart, two University System of Georgia (USG) employees, Tim Pearson, Ed.D., professor of accounting at Georgia Southern, and Ana Cabrera, a housing staffer at the University of Georgia (UGA), died from complications of COVID-19. 

Following their deaths, GS and UGA released statements to the media about the deaths. Janet Frick, Ph.D., associate professor at UGA, pointed out to The George-Anne and The Red & Black (UGA’s student newspaper) that those statements were incredibly similar.

  • “We are deeply saddened by the loss of a member of the Georgia Southern University family. Our sympathy goes out to the individual’s loved ones. Out of respect for the family and friends of the deceased, we will not comment further,” wrote Melanie Simon, public relations manager at GS, in an email to The George-Anne.
  • “We are deeply saddened by the loss of a member of the University of Georgia community. Our sympathy goes out to our co-worker’s family and friends. Out of respect for them, we will not comment further,” said Greg Trevor, executive director for media communications at UGA, to the Classic City News.

The George-Anne reached out to Aaron Diamant, vice chancellor of communications at the USG, for comment on the statements and asked if the USG prepared ‘talking points’ for the institutions.

Diamant responded Monday via email, “USG institutions draft their own media statements.”

The George-Anne also reached out to Jennifer Wise, director of communications at GS, Trevor and Rebecca Beeler, public relations manager at UGA, for comment on the similarity of the statements. None of them responded to our requests for comment. 

What the identical wording indicates is that USG is directing campuses to use tightly scripted, uninformative, and even evasive language to speak of the loss of valued members of their campus community,” said Frick. “The dry, clinical nature of the statements belies any feeling of compassion in regards to these losses.”

“It’s obviously not an accident that UGA and GSU used identical language, which suggests to me either that it was directed from USG, or that the different campuses coordinated their messages,” added Frick.

“As a resident of Statesboro, I’m worried about my neighbors. As a professor, I’m worried about my colleagues and my students. As a mother, I’m worried about my children,” said Leticia McGrath, assistant professor of foreign language at GS. “None of us are prepared to mourn the deaths of multiple friends, colleagues, and family members.”

McGrath brought her concerns about these statements to the Faculty Welfare Committee, which McGrath chairs, even asking if faculty could write their own obituaries and provide them to colleagues and university administrators to release should they die.

Diana Cone, vice provost at GS, explained it was illegal to do so in the meeting. McGrath went to Maura Copeland, chief legal affairs officer at GS, asking for the exact legal justification on why faculty members couldn’t write their own obituaries. Copeland hasn’t responded to McGrath’s emails.

“I think the message is that it will be up to employees, families, and local journalists to tell the stories of people we lose to [COVID-19],” said Frick. “Because our campus communication departments will not take the lead on that.”