Rona Donahue, president of the University of Alabama Faculty Senate, posed a question to her colleagues Tuesday afternoon.
“So we’re saying that the University of Alabama has a racist and toxic environment?” she asked as members of the senate responded with rolling eyes, resounding yeses and mumbles of agreement.
Senators approved a public letter calling on the university to address former UA Dean of Students Dr. Jamie Riley’s resignation and ensure faculty, students and staff rights to free speech.
“I’ve been at the university for almost 36 years. And over that time, this is the most concerning campus-wide situation that I have encountered in terms of faculty, staff and students, especially those of our marginalized communities,” said Donahoe.
Riley resigned as UA dean of students one day after Breitbart published a story highlighting Riley’s tweets from 2017 likening the American flag to a symbol of racism.
The senate approved a motion at the beginning of the meeting to disregard the scheduled agenda and devote the meeting to crafting a response to the University regarding concerns surrounding Riley’s resignation. An AL.com reporter was asked to leave the room for the first half of the session after Donahoe motioned to move the meeting to executive session to freely discuss personnel issues.
Dan Meissner, a UA journalism professor voted against the motion for executive session along with nine other faculty members, but the motion passed.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any discussion that would be detrimental to Dr. Riley,” Meissner said. “So I don’t feel that he needs to be protected in this discussion. But as we come down on the administration for their lack of transparency in this process, I think it behooves us to discuss this in an open session and keep as much transparency in our deliberations and in this process.”
When the session re-opened, senators were tasked with editing an open letter to the University.
Andre Denham, associate professor for instructional technology and Mike Altman, assistant professor in the department of religious studies, motioned to include the word “racism” in the document, emphasizing the importance of highlighting the history of racism at the university.
Altman said he heard from potential faculty and students of color who do not want to apply to work at, or go to school, at UA because of Dr. Riley’s resignation and the university’s response.
The motion passed, but Bruce Barrett, associate professor of statistics and former faculty adviser for Students for America First, a student organization dedicated to the “preservation of the American ideals” objected to free speech being conditional to speech regarding race and social justice.
“You’re making a lot of accusations where we just don’t know what happened,” Barrett said. “But if we can just ask them to affirm their commitment to free speech, then that’s what we need to have.”
Bennett along with one other faculty member abstained from approving or denying the motion to approve the letter.
The faculty then approved a motion to develop at task force to transform campus culture at the university by arranging a committee of eight to 10 faculty members and working with the office of diversity and inclusion.
“The appointment of the task force will hopefully address some of the concerns and make some specific recommendations about ways that the university can make those smaller portions of the campus community feel that they belong, that they are safe and that they are heard,” Donahoe said. “So that’s that’s my goal moving forward is that the senate’s task force will help to accomplish cultural change on this campus.”
The meeting was adjourned; the letter approved and task force proposed. But the room remained abuzz with sighs and whispers as faculty trickled out.
This story will be updated