Written By: John Stephen and Jordan Hill
VSU President William McKinney has ordered a third-party investigation into a clash between a former adjunct professor and VSU alumnus that occurred this summer over the use of state resources for political purposes.
Dr. Mark George, the professor involved in the conflict, has filed a formal complaint with the USG’s Ethics and Compliance Department against Dr. McKinney and VSU’s provost, Dr. Hudson Rogers, for alleged political/ethical violations.
Meanwhile, the fallout from these events has caused a ripple effect across campus, causing faculty members to question their political rights as university employees. As a result, the faculty senate is working with VSU departments to clear up the confusion regarding a policy that prohibits faculty from using state resources to perform political activities.
The controversy began this summer when John C. Hall Jr., a VSU alumnus, complained to Dr. McKinney about Dr. George’s use of his VSU email account to distribute a proposal that recommended removing all state support for Confederate memorials and holidays.
In July, Dr. George’s VSU email account was deactivated, but the motive behind this action is still hotly contested.
Dr. George said VSU’s actions against him were politically motivated, adding that they have no policy to back up what they did. The policy that the administration presented to Dr. George refers only to restrictions on political campaigning and nothing more.
Dr. McKinney said Dr. George’s account was shut down because he was no longer a professor at VSU, and per a procedural statement posted on IT’s website, all employee email accounts are regularly deleted 45 days after the employee leaves VSU.
However, Dr. George has provided evidence that several former VSU professors still use their VSU account regularly, even though they have passed the 45-day cutoff.
Hall maintains that Dr. George’s email account was shut down because of Dr. George’s personal attacks against Hall. Hall said this in a previous email to The Spectator.
“If (the) USG doesn’t do a critical, thorough investigation, I will be consulting with my lawyer about legal action,” Dr. George said.
Dr. McKinney said he didn’t want to comment further on this controversy until the third-party investigation has run its course.
This dispute has had wide-ranging repercussions, including confusion among VSU faculty concerning BOR policy on political activity.
The most recent development was the cancellation of the Clothesline Project, an event consisting of hanging T-shirts on clotheslines at VSU to promote awareness for sexual assault and domestic violence.
Dr. Tracy Woodard Meyers, director of the Clothesline Project and the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, said she was told not to use state resources for political purposes. According to Dr. Meyers, the Clothesline Project is political, meaning its existence violates Board of Regents policy.
Dr. McKinney said Wednesday that he never told Dr. Meyers to cancel the Clothesline Project.
“If I can’t use state resources for political purposes, I cannot hang up the Clothesline,” she said.
In a meeting between Dr. Meyers and Dr. McKinney in August, Dr. McKinney said he supported the Clothesline Project.
According to McKinney, when he met with Dr. Meyers in August, he voiced his support for the Clothesline Project.
“(Dr. Meyers) asked me flat out, ‘Can we still do those projects?’ and I said, ‘absolutely yes,’ and I stick by that,” Dr. McKinney said of the meeting.
Faculty’s confusion on the policy has been a hot topic at faculty senate meetings. VSU faculty wants to see a policy that explains their political rights.
“We have a lack of clearly stated policies when it comes to electronic communication,” Dr. Michael Noll, faculty senate president, said.
Dr. Noll and faculty members are currently working with IT and other key players to look at what policies are in place and what they need to revise.
“What we do have is clearly violating academic freedom and freedom of speech,” Dr. Noll said. “These cases are learning situations. We can learn as an institution and only become stronger as an institution by clarifying and updating existing policies.”
Dr. McKinney also addressed the faculty’s confusion on what BOR policy allows them to do, suggesting an open approach to the rules and encouraging anyone with questions about the policy to consult VSU’s legal counsel.
“In the absence of a policy that prohibits something, you’re permitted,” Dr. McKinney said.