To: Chancellor Glenn Boyce & Provost Noel Wilkin
From: United Campus Workers of Mississippi, CWA Local 3565
We are writing to you today because of a clear pattern of administrative abuses of power, of which the latest have resulted in (1) the targeted harassment of public employees, (2) the placement of the University of Mississippi’s ombuds, Paul Caffera, on administrative leave, and (3) the termination of Professor Garrett Felber, Assistant Professor of History.
We stand in solidarity with the individuals and groups who have called for:
● Chancellor Boyce and the upper administration to “rebuff all attempts by any and all external forces which unduly attack the faculty and thereby distract from the mission of the University of Mississippi.” 1
● The reinstatement of Mr. Caffera as Ombuds for the University of Mississippi… and the protection of the Ombuds Office from any and all improper and retaliatory actions. 2
● A full and transparent account of the process that led to Professor Felber’s termination, and his immediate reinstatement as Assistant Professor of History. 3 Professor Felber’s public, anti-racist work, and sustained attempts to highlight the inequities facing Mississsippi’s people of color, have made him a target of state and University administrators interested in protecting the racial status quo.
We also must point out that these most recent events are not without precedent, as the University routinely fails to uphold its commitments to support faculty excellence, increase and maintain diversity, foster healthy student environments, and transform the lives of people beyond the University. The patterns of abuse and failures to protect students, staff, and faculty over the years are well-documented:
● Over 1300 documented instances of micro-assaults, -insults, and -invalidations reported by more than 600 students across just one academic year. 4
● Threats of violence toward Black students, including death threats, for their participation in a campaign to remove the former state flag from our campus in 2015, and to remove the Confederate monument from the entryway of our campus.
● Threats of violence, including death threats, toward faculty and staff assisting students in these anti-racist endeavors.
● The abject failure to recruit and retain Black faculty, or to adequately promote and advance Black faculty and staff, much of it due to a campus culture of abuse, harassment, and violence directed toward Black men and women. 5
Not a single claim above is unknown to University of Mississippi’s senior leadership. Indeed, senior leadership has long been well aware of these abuses, and yet has failed to publicly defend students, faculty, or staff who have been victims of these abuses. Nor has the University of Mississippi’s senior leadership publicly denounced threats made to students, faculty, or staff.
At the same time, the University of Mississippi has for over a decade publicly proclaimed its commitments to anti-racism, social justice, and equity, most recently in a Virtual Provost Forum in October 2020. All the evidence points to the contrary. While publicly supporting anti-racism and encouraging all faculty and staff to engage in anti-racism work, University administrators have largely remained silent when faculty, staff, and students have been attacked for doing such work. In addition, they have simultaneously attacked, rebuked, shunned, and silenced those who engage in this work: from the public questioning of faculty’s research integrity, to the near-daily gaslighting in which faculty and staff experiences with these patterns of abuse, harassment, and violence are minimized, dismissed, or ignored; to the most recent institutional assaults against faculty’s academic freedom, and against the mandated independence and confidentiality of the Office of the Ombuds.
In sum, for many years, but once again highlighted by recent events, the University of Mississippi has fostered a culture of harassment, abuse, and violence toward its faculty and staff. This harassment, abuse, and violence comes from all levels of management, including some Department Chairs and supervisors, as well as from some of its predominantly white student body. The targets of this harassment, abuse, and violence are disproportionately women, especially Black women, and faculty and students across racial and gender demographics who publicly hold the University accountable to its commitments to support faculty excellence, increase and maintain diversity, foster healthy student environments, and transform the lives of people beyond the University.
The above patterns have and continue to have negative outcomes for the campus community. Most recently, over 5,000 academics have publicly pledged to “refuse all invitations to speak at, conduct professional service for, or otherwise be associated with the University of Mississippi,” 6 which means a wide variety of professional services such as serving on dissertation committees and writing letters for our faculty and students are no longer being supported by thousands of our colleagues across the world. It will also reduce support from colleagues at other institutions recommending graduate students for University programs and compromise future funding from granting institutions. In addition, faculty and staff morale is low. 7 All of this impacts employee productivity.
Moreover, the current campus climate erodes public and internal trust that the University can fulfill its mission. It will make it more difficult for the University to retain current faculty and recruit new faculty (especially those doing social justice work), and reduce the enrollment of students of color and those who will likely rely on University departments and programs to develop the skills necessary to do equity work in the state. This is blatantly irresponsible for a University concerned about drops in enrollment.
The current climate also will likely increase distrust in the University for those in the community as well as “beyond the University,” including the Ole Miss Eight. 8 The University’s actions in the past decade can only be seen as antithetical to its proposal to transform communities beyond the institution, especially communities of color.
In short, this pattern of repeatedly publicly stating that the University supports work designed to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion while simultaneously undermining and attacking those who engage in this work is unsustainable and is causing harm to the university and its employees.
We look forward to your prompt response to the demands made by the groups outlined above and to these pressing issues that affect the UM community and the state of Mississippi.
1 Untitled Resolution of the Senate Faculty of the University of Mississippi, December 8, 2020. See also “A Resolution of The Senate of the Faculty of the University of Mississippi Addressing the Actions of the Mississippi State Auditor and Calling upon the University of Mississippi to Resist Undue External Influence and to Support Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression,” December 8, 2020.
2 “Petition to Reinstate Paul Caffera as Ombuds for the University of Mississippi.”
3 Letter to Chancellor Glenn Boyce, December 16, 2020; PEN America Says Dismissal of University of Mississippi Scholar Raises Serious Questions, December 17, 2020; FIRE Letter to the University of Mississippi, December 18, 2020.
4 Microaggressions at the University of Mississippi, a Report from the UM Race Diary Project. October 2018.
5 See Faculty and Staff Data, Office of Institutional Research, Effectiveness, and Planning, University of Mississippi. Also see University of Mississippi’s Institutional Profile from the Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS), National Center for Education Statistics. Also see “Riots and Rumors of Riots: Lessons from the University of Mississippi.” Originally published in The Griot, November 2012.
6 Letter to Chancellor Glenn Boyce, December 16, 2020.
7 University of Mississippi Campus Climate Survey Executive Summary, July 2020.
8 “Five of the Ole Miss Eight return to campus.” The Daily Mississippian, February 25, 2020. Also see “The Unhealed Wounds of a Mass Arrest of Black Students at Ole Miss, Fifty Years Later.” The New Yorker, February 23 2020. Professor Felber was instrumental in the Ole Miss Eight’s return to campus in February 2020.