MOBILE, Alabama (WALA) — Responding to a growing controversy over 7-year-old Halloween photos the recently resurfaced, the University of South Alabama on Friday put three professors on leave and launched an internal investigation.
But several dozen angry students who gathered outside a board of trustees meeting said the moves were insufficient.
“As educators and leaders in our community at the University of South Alabama, to have that type of influence over students and to post pictures with a noose around your neck and dressed as Confederates dressed up and laughing, that’s ultimately disrespect to students here at South Alabama,” said senior Basheer Addar, who is among those calling for the professors to be fired.
The faculty members, Bob Wood, Alex Sharland and Teresa Weldy, will be on indefinite paid administrative leave. University President Tony Waldrop said the school has hired outside law firm to conduct a review that he said should take less than 30 days.
The three professors attended on an-campus Halloween party in 2014. Pictures that appeared on the school’s Facebook page and that recently came to the attention of students, show Wood in a Confederate soldier outfit, while Sharland and Weldy posed with a noose.
Waldrop, who last month announced plans to step down in order to follow his wife to North Carolina, waded into the crowd at one point and engaged the protesters.
“I can never feel what you feel. You’re right,” he said. “But I can assure you that we want to be a better place. And I want your help in doing that.”
The protesters held signs with messages like, “There is no excuse for holding a noose,” and “I don’t pay to employ racists.” One student worse a homemade shirt calling for the professors to be fired.
Kaya Wilkinson, the president of the campus chapter of the NAACP, said many students feel “uncomfortable” with those professors being on campus. She said the administration has not moved swiftly enough and described what see wants to be the default response to similar instances.
“Basically, as soon as a professor says anything offensive or racist, they’re automatically removed from the university,” she said.
Two of the professors issued written apologies, but some students expressed doubt over thein sincerity. Freshman Amya Douglas said a written statement falls flat. She said she wants students to be able to confront them directly.
“It paints the picture that these professors are more so trying to do damage control than actually be sincere about their feelings,” she said. “I personally would like to see them face to face.”
Cameron Grief-Shepperd, president of the Black Student Union on campus, said he welcomes the apologizes but adds that is only the beginning.
“I believe that is a start,” he said. “Whether it was, you know, sincere or not, at least we got an apology.”
Waldrop said he wants all students involved.
“I think we all know it’s best to have many people approaching an issue and coming up with answers,” he said. “It’s never one person. We need to work together.”
What happens next is unclear. Wood and Sharland have tenure, which gives them heightened job protection. Waldrop told the students he cannot make any decisions about personnel issues until the internal review is over.
“Our response is that we’ll do everything we can to make the system better,” he said. “However, my hands are tied as far as taking immediate action.”
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