Three professors at the University of South Alabama were placed on leave after students began a petition to have them fired over "casual racism" displayed in a photograph from Halloween in 2014.
University of South Alabama president Tony Waldrop said on Friday that there would be an independent investigation into the photograph that has since been deleted from the university's Facebook page.
The petition posted the photograph that showed one professor dressed up as a confederate soldier while two others played with a noose.
"In 2014, professors Bob Wood (then Dean of the Mitchell College of Business) Alex Sharland, and Teresa Weldy were photographed at an on-campus party wearing and holding blatantly racist symbols of hatred and violence towards the African-American community. These photographs were then posted on the college's Facebook for the public to see without any sign of remorse or recognition of wrong-doing," read the petition.
"Though South says that these photographs were brought to their attention, action was taken, and the original photographs were removed in 2020, 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," they added.
The petition had received almost 2,600 signatures as of Friday.
Wood, who is a professor of finance at the university, released a statement apologizing for the photo.
"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," said Wood to Inside Higher Ed. "I sincerely apologize and am sorry for doing so, and ask for forgiveness for this error in judgment."
Sharland also apologized.
"In retrospect I can see why someone might find the image hurtful, and I regret this attempt at humor that clearly failed," Sharland said. "It was not my intent to hurt or be offensive, and if anyone is offended by this picture I apologize."
Dozens of students protested on Friday over the deleted photograph.
Here's a local news report about the incident:
Petition calls for firing of South Alabama professors over controversial costume photo - NBC 15 WPMI www.youtube.com