The University of South Alabama has placed three professors on leave and appointed a former federal prosecutor to investigate their wearing of allegedly racist costumes to a 2014 Halloween party on campus.
University President Tony Waldrop confirmed the suspensions and said the school has hired Suntrease Williams-Maynard, a former federal prosecutor and lawyer for the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to investigate the matter.
The three professors – Bob Wood, Alex Sharland and Teresa Weldy – are under fire after pictures of them at a 2014 costume party came to light and sparked student outrage. Wood, then dean of South Alabama’s business school, wore a replica Confederate uniform, while Sharland and Weldy were shown holding a noose and a whip, respectively.
EXCLUSIVE: The University of South Alabama is responding after controversial photos of three tenured professors resurface. One is dressed as a confederate general, the other two are posing with a whip and a noose. STORY: https://t.co/M6aei25Bbapic.twitter.com/Xz4lBzWAfT
— Amanda DeVoe (@AmandaDeVoeTV) March 2, 2021
A change.org petition demanding that the three professors be fired has accumulated more than 2,600 signatures. According to the petition, the party photos were posted on the university’s Facebook page “without any sign of remorse or recommendation of wrongdoing,” and were removed only in 2020.
“The fact that these professors are still currently employed by the university shows a deep failure to commit to a safe, welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds,” the petitioners said. “The casual racism portrayed by these professors cannot go unpunished.”
Students held two protests near the campus Bell Tower on Friday. Waldrop, who previously announced plans to retire later this year, said the university is “treating this situation with the utmost seriousness and with a commitment to acting upon the results of the investigation.”
Wood, who was named Dean of the Year in 2020 by Beta Gamma Sigma, the international business honor society, apologized in a statement for his choice of costume. “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,” he said. “I sincerely apologize and am sorry for doing so, and ask for forgiveness for this error in judgment.”
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