Feb. 23, 2021 Update: This article has been updated to include new statements from University officials.
The UAB campus is still engulfed in controversy over President Ray Watts’s statement condemning tweets by Dr. Sarah Parcak, the university’s famed archaeology professor. Now, student groups are weighing in the matter with their voices.
In a statement released Thursday evening, the Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA) called for more transparency into the matter.
“We are disappointed by the administration’s actions regarding this situation, especially considering UAB’s precedent of limited university action regarding white supremacy on campus in the name of protecting free speech,” the statement reads.
The USGA statement listed the following requests of university administration:
- Acknowledge a difference between the response to Parcak’s tweets and the response to white supremacists on campus.
- Identify the university’s policies allegedly involved in the case.
- Provide a clear definition of what is free speech for faculty and students.
The UAB Students for Diversity and Campus Safety, a group formed in the wake of multiple UAB employees being identified as white supremacists, released their own statement Thursday.
“We are disappointed by the level of wasted energy given to these tweets (which, as the statement pointed out, are not representative of UAB) by the administration,” the group’s statement reads. “If they can condemn one professor’s tweet, then there is nothing preventing them from condemning white supremacist ideology that directly attacks their diverse student population.”
That statement also came with the following list of demands for university administration:
- Redesign UAB’s free speech policy to protect all “non-violent” forms of speech.
- Ensure that no disciplinary action is taken against Dr. Parcak.
- Retract its statement against Dr. Parcak and end any investigation.
- Publicly name and deny tenure to all UAB employees proven as members of white supremacist groups.
The group released a second statement Friday evening. The statement criticized a private response to the group and re-asserted the demands in their first statement. A sticking for this statement was the disproportionate response to a group of right-wing protestors that set up shop outside Hill Student Center last week with the tweets of Dr. Parcak.
The Kaleidoscope has reached out to the group for more information on the contents of the university’s private message but has yet to hear a response.
Update: Both the Students for Diversity and Campus Safety and UAB have made public the letter sent to the student advocacy groups. The letter can be read in full here.
Meanwhile, a petition created by sophomore psychology student Raymond Bowman has been gaining traction online. As of 2:11 p.m. on Feb. 20, the petition has 201 signatures. Bowman’s petition has the support of UAB Students for Diversity and Campus Safety and calls on the university to accept the demands outlined in their statement.
“If over 100 students in less than 24 hours are willing to come out to say they are against any disciplinary action against this professor and are against Ray Watts’s statement, I think UAB should listen,” Bowman said. “I really think UAB should listen to the student body and not do anything harsh or rash.”
At this time, President Watts has not made any further public comment on the matter. And the university is in the midst of a multiday social media blackout on its academic and institutional accounts.
Update: In an email sent out Feb. 23 to UAB students, university leadership responded to criticism over Watts’ initial statement and clarified why they made it.
“As a public figure, Dr. Parcak knows the scrutiny that comes with her platform,” the email reads. “Many people feel she represents the institution with her opinions, so it is important we make it clear that she speaks for herself, not UAB.”
The letter also butted back against criticism that the statement on Parcak was disproportionate to their statements on white supremacy in 2019 by emphasizing they had “publicly acknowledged” the matter in a defense of UAB’s “shared values.”
In a separate statement shared with the Kaleidoscope, a spokesperson for the university added that the speed of the university response to Dr. Parcak’s tweets is influenced by student feedback from 2019 that requested “UAB leadership be more expedient and strong in defense of our shared values when members of our campus community fall short.”