Three professors from the University of South Alabama received paid leave after photos surfaced of them dressed in costumes and holding props at a campus party in 2014 that the university president said were “offensive” and “contrary to our fundamental principles of diversity and inclusion “.
One photo shows Bob Wood, a finance professor, dressed as a Confederate soldier. In another photo, Teresa Weldy, an assistant professor of administration, and Alex Sharland, a marketing professor, pose with a whip and rope.
“In these photos, members of our senior faculty are shown wearing and holding symbols that are offensive and contrary to the principles of diversity and inclusion that our university strives to incorporate into all of our decisions and actions,” said Tony Waldrop, president of the University. in a statement last week. “We condemn the use of any and all racist images or symbols, which are not acceptable in any context on our campus.”
The photos were taken at a costume party at the Mitchell College of Business, where Wood was the dean at the time, according to the statement. They were posted on the university’s Facebook page, but were removed in 2020.
Waldrop said the university’s response to photos in 2020 “should have been stronger and broader, and should have more clearly demonstrated our unwavering commitment to a safe and welcoming environment for all members of our community.
“We recognize that, in our response to this incident, we are failing to meet our obligations and responsibilities to our students, our employees, and our community,” he said.
Waldrop released the statement on March 2, the day after WKRG-TV of Mobile, Alabama, where the university is located, posted the photos. On Friday, he issued a second statement on the matter, saying it would be investigated by Suntrease Williams-Maynard, who has served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Mobile and as an assistant prosecutor for USA in the Southern District. of Alabama and the Southern District of Texas.
Ms. Williams-Maynard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While the investigation is ongoing, members of the faculty have been placed on administrative leave, Waldrop said. A university spokesman, Lance Crawford, said Sunday that the professors were on paid leave.
“Together with the leadership of the university, I assure you that we are treating this situation with the utmost seriousness and with a commitment to act on the research results,” said Waldrop.
One of the professors, Mr. Wood, offered an apology in a statement released by the university. He said he had rented a last minute “ill-conceived” costume for a teacher-student Halloween costume contest.
“I sincerely apologize and regret that I did, and I apologize for this error in judgment,” Wood said.
One of the other teachers, Mr. Sharland, also apologized in a statement.
“In hindsight, I can see why someone might find the image hurtful, and I regret this attempt at humor that clearly failed,” he said. “It was not my intention to hurt or be offensive, and if anyone is offended by this image, I apologize.”
Wood, Sharland and Weldy did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.
On Friday, students gathered in front of a meeting of the university’s board of trustees, holding signs that read “I do not pay to hire racists” and “There is no excuse to hold a rope,” as reported. NBC 15 by Mobile.
“We have black students on campus,” Chante Moore, a student, told WKRG. “How do you think that makes them feel? Do you care about your students? “
A group of students posted an online petition calling on the university to fire teachers, “to show that racism has no place on our campus and to re-commit to establishing a safe place for all who seek education here.”
As of Sunday morning, the petition has nearly 2,700 signatures.