MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Three professors at the University of South Alabama have been placed on leave after racially insensitive Halloween photos surfaced of them, the university said.
USA President Tony Waldrop made the announcement Friday. An independent investigation into the incident will be conducted by attorney Suntrease Williams-Maynard, a former trial attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Mobile and a former assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama and the Southern District of Texas, he said.
The pictures were taken at an on-campus Halloween party in 2014, according to a petition created by USA students, multiple news agencies reported. Then-Dean of the Mitchell College of Business and current finance professor Bob Wood was dressed in a Confederate soldier’s uniform, while professors Alex Sharland and Teresa Weldy posed with a whip and noose.
Waldrop wrote in a statement that the symbols and costume are offensive and do not represent the university’s principles.
“We have pledged our full cooperation to Ms. Williams-Maynard in her investigation. The faculty members involved have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation and any related proceedings,” he said. “Along with the leadership of the University, I assure you that we are treating this situation with the utmost seriousness and with a commitment to acting upon the results of the investigation. In the meantime, please join me in continuing our ongoing work to make the USA community one that proudly and steadfastly treats every person with respect and dignity.”
Students meanwhile are still calling for the professors' termination. They organized two protests near the campus' Bell Tower on Friday. At the noon protest, nearly 100 individuals attended. As of Friday, a petition calling for the firing of the professors had over 2,500 signatures.
"Take professors - who are in the power to educate and be around students that have racist attributes or do racist things and think that is funny or cool - out of this university,” said student Jaylen Williams told WKRG-TV.
Waldrop asked the students to help the administration provide ideas so the university can move forward.
“It’s best to have many people approaching an issue and coming up with answers. It’s never one person. We need to work together,” he said.
In a post on Inside Higher Ed, both Wood and Sharland apologized for their actions.
“Seven years ago, I rented and wore a last-minute costume that was ill-conceived to a faculty and student Halloween costume contest, at which I served on a panel of judges to select the winners,” Wood said. “I sincerely apologize and am sorry for doing so, and ask for forgiveness for this error in judgment.”
“In retrospect I can see why someone might find the image hurtful, and I regret this attempt at humor that clearly failed,” Sharland said. “It was not my intent to hurt or be offensive, and if anyone is offended by this picture I apologize.”