The University of South Alabama has suspended three professors and ordered an independent investigation in response to an outcry over newly leaked photos from a 2014 on-campus Halloween party, showing the educators in racially insensitive costumes.
The pictures show then-Mitchell College of Business dean Bob Wood dressed as a Confederate general, and smiling professors Alex Sharland and Teresa Weldy posing with a whip and a noose.
On Thursday, University of South Alabama President Tony Waldrop announced that Wood, Sharland and Weldy have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into the incident, which will be conducted by outside attorney Suntrease Williams-Maynard, a former trial lawyer for the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Mobile.
University of South Alabama professors Bob Wood (left), Teresa Weldy (center) and Alex Sharland (right) have been suspended over these photos from a 2014 on-campus Halloween party
The university has ordered an investigation into the professors’ conduct, which is being handled by an independent outside attorney
The move comes after 2,500 people have signed a petition calling for the firings of the three professors.
According to the description of the petition, in October 2014, Wood, then dean of the Mitchell College of Business, Sharland, who teaches marketing, and Weldy, an assistant management professor, were photographed at the business school’s Halloween party ‘wearing and holding blatantly racist symbols of hatred and violence towards the African-American community.’
In one photo, Wood is seen wearing a replica of a Confederate uniform, complete with a small Confederate flag affixed to his hat. In the other image, Sharland is dressed in a black robe and a white judge’s wig, and is holding a cat-o’-nine-tails whip, standing next to Weldy who is displaying a noose.
The photographs were posted on the college’s Facebook page, where they remained until 2020, when they were removed in response to complaints.
Wood (left), who was dean of USA’s business school at the time, said in a statement his Confederate uniform costume was ‘ill-conceived.’ Sharland (right), a marketing professor, described his costume as an ‘attempt at humor that clearly failed’
Wledy, assistant management professor, who, unlike the other two, is not tenured, has not addressed the controversy
‘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,’ wrote the organizer of the petition.
In his statement announcing the suspensions and the investigation, President Waldrop said the costumes and symbols displayed in the photos ‘are offensive and are contrary to our core principles of diversity and inclusion.’
University of South Alabama President Tony Waldrop said the costumes and symbols displayed in the photos ‘are offensive and are contrary to our core principles of diversity and inclusion’
Wood and Sharland, who both have tenure, have issued separate statements apologizing for their conduct, reported NBC15.
‘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 wrote. ‘I sincerely apologize and am sorry for doing so, and ask for forgiveness for this error in judgment. I regret the decision, and I understand the hurtful nature of these symbols, which do not reflect my beliefs.’
Sharland stated: ‘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. It was not my intent to offend and I have learned from this experience.’
A petition demanding the firing of the three professors has drawn 2,500 signatures
Weldy, who is not a tenured professor at the university, has not publicly addressed the controversy.
A student protest was staged on campus on Friday afternoon, calling on administrators to hold the professors accountable for their actions, reported WKRG.
‘As professors, they are supposed to be educating us, but we are standing here because we feel like we have to educate them on why their actions are wrong,’ one participant said.