CNN reports that the three tenured professors—Bob Wood, Alex Sharland, and Teresa Weldy—have been placed on paid leave. In two photos taken at a campus event in 2014, one professor is shown wearing a Confederate soldier’s uniform, and the other two are posing with a whip and noose. A statement from the college revealed the pictures are from a costume party at the Mitchell College of Business.
“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 actions taken in response to these pictures, which were brought to the attention of University leadership 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,” the president continued, “We acknowledge that, in our response to this incident, we failed in our obligations and responsibilities to our students, our employees and our community. For this, we are deeply sorry to everyone who is rightfully hurt and offended by these images.”
A probe into the incident will be spearheaded by Suntrease Williams-Maynard, a former trial attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Mobile, Alabama and a former assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama. “It is my goal to conduct an independent, unbiased investigation so that the leadership for the University of South Alabama will be in the best position to make an informed decision,” Williams-Maynard told CNN.
Two of the three professors have issued statements through the university. “I regret the decision, and I understand the hurtful nature of these symbols, which do not reflect my beliefs. Working at the University of South Alabama, guiding students through their academic careers, and having a positive impact on them as they prepare for their next steps in life has been one of the greatest honors of my professional life,” Wood said. “I have learned from this error, and I am committed to doing better in the future.”
Sharland said, “In retrospect, I can see why someone might find the image hurtful, and I regret this attempt at humor that clearly failed. It was not my intent to hurt or be offensive, and if anyone is offended by this picture I apologize.” He added, “It was not my intent to offend, and I have learned from this experience.”
“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 petition says. “Racism cannot simply be given a slap on the wrist. It must be addressed as the serious issue it is. We cannot have professors who partake in this kind of behavior.”