Probe of professors wearing controversial Halloween costumes cost University of South Alabama $175,000
Including salaries paid to professors on leave, total cost exceeds $500,000
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - An investigation into controversial Halloween costumes that University of South Alabama officials originally expected to last about a month instead went on for more than a year and cost more than $175,000, the university said.
And the issues that prompted the investigation still are not fully resolved.
The university announced last month that it had reinstated professor Teresa Weldy after concluding that she had not violated university policy when she posed with a noose during an off-campus Halloween party in 2014. But the school has yet to make a determination about professor Bob Wood, who dressed as a Confederate soldier, or professor Alex Sharland, who dressed as a “hanging judge.”
The photo did not draw complaints when the University of South Alabama posted it on its Facebook page at the time. But when students discovered it last year, it sparked protests and calls for the professors’ firing.
Then-university president Tony Waldrop announced in March of last year that the school was hiring the Mobile law firm Adams and Reese to investigate whether the costumes violated the employee handbook that was in place in 2014.
Waldrop said at the time that he expected that review to take about 30 days. Instead, it lasted more than a year. In response to inquiries from FOX10 News, the university said it paid $175,014 to the firm. University spokesman Lance Crawford said the firm billed for 1,085.86 hours, with the hourly rate ranging from $100 to $200, depending on which lawyer was working on the issue at a given time.
Wood and Sharland – who remain on paid leave – earn more than $100,000 a year, and Weldy makes $83,475 That means the university has paid a combined total of roughly $400,000 in salary to the professors while they were on leave.
Crawford said the university would not comment on the investigation or its cost. Delwar Hossain, a communications professor who serves as president of the Faculty Senate, said he believes the school is moving deliberatively.
“I think that the university, the reason the university hired an external lawyer because they wanted to see the process as rigorous,” he said.
Suntrease Williams-Maynard, who headed up the investigation for Adams and Reese, did not return a phone call. The university administration last year said it tapped her because of her background as a former trial attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Mobile and a former federal prosecutor.
The university said last year that Williams-Maynard had interviewed numerous people as part of the probe. Crawford said the attorney’s work is complete and the firm has produced a report. But he declined to make the findings public. He also said he did not have a timeline on when the university would determine when, or if, Sharland and Wood could return to work.
Hossain said $175,000 is a lot of money but added that he understands the university’s thinking. Bringing in a lawyer with “expertise in civil rights” could add a good perspective” to the investigation.
“They wanted to get a perspective from an expert, and they wanted to follow the process fairly,” he said. “So there’s the case for hiring an external attorney, but in terms of money, and in terms of payment, I don’t have any idea.”
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