Three Alabama Professors on Leave After Halloween Photos Surface

Three professors at the University of South Alabama have been placed on leave after photos surfaced of them wearing costumes and holding props at an on-campus party in 2014 that the university’s president said were “offensive” and “contrary to our core principles of diversity and inclusion.”

One photo shows Bob Wood, a professor of finance, dressed as a Confederate soldier. In another photo, Teresa Weldy, an assistant professor of management, and Alex Sharland, a professor of marketing, pose with a whip and a noose.

“In these photos, members of our tenured faculty appear 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,” Tony Waldrop, the university’s president, said in a statement this past 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 Mr. Wood was the dean at the time, the statement said. They were posted on the university’s Facebook page but were deleted in 2020.

Mr. Waldrop said that the university’s response to the 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 every member of our community.”

“We acknowledge that, in our response to this incident, we failed in our obligations and responsibilities to our students, our employees and our community,” he said.

Mr. Waldrop issued the statement on March 2, a day after the photos were reported by WKRG-TV of Mobile, Ala., where the university is based. On Friday, he issued a second statement on the matter, saying that it would be investigated by Suntrease Williams-Maynard, who has served as a trial lawyer for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Mobile and as an assistant U.S. attorney 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 underway, the faculty members have been placed on administrative leave, Mr. Waldrop said. It was not clear on Sunday whether the leave was paid.

“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,” he said.

One of the professors, Mr. Wood, offered an apology in a statement reported by Inside Higher Ed. He said that he had rented an “ill-conceived” last-minute costume for a faculty-and-student Halloween costume contest.

“I sincerely apologize and am sorry for doing so, and ask for forgiveness for this error in judgment,” Mr. Wood said.

One of the other professors, Mr. Sharland, also apologized in a statement that was reported by Inside Higher Ed.

“In retrospect 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 intent to hurt or be offensive, and if anyone is offended by this picture, I apologize.”

Mr. Wood, Mr. Sharland and Ms. Weldy did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

On Friday, students gathered outside a meeting of the university’s board of trustees, carrying signs that read “I don’t pay to employ racists” and “There is no excuse for holding a noose,” as reported by NBC 15 of 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 for the university to fire the professors, “to demonstrate that racism has no place on our campus and to recommit to establishing a safe place for all who seek education here.”

As of Sunday morning, the petition has nearly 2,700 signatures.

“We acknowledge that, in our response to this incident, we failed in our obligations and responsibilities to our students, our employees and our community,” he said.

Mr. Waldrop issued the statement on March 2, a day after the photos were reported by WKRG-TV of Mobile, Ala., where the university is based. On Friday, he issued a second statement on the matter, saying that it would be investigated by Suntrease Williams-Maynard, who has served as a trial lawyer for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Mobile and as an assistant U.S. attorney 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 underway, the faculty members have been placed on administrative leave, Mr. Waldrop said. It was not clear on Sunday whether the leave was paid.

On Friday, students gathered outside a meeting of the university’s board of trustees, carrying signs that read “I don’t pay to employ racists” and “There is no excuse for holding a noose,” as reported by NBC 15 of 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?”

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