After the surprising announcement of the dismissal of Garrett Felber, an assistant professor in the history department, thousands of academics from around the world have signed a joint letter addressed to Chancellor Glenn Boyce and Noell Wilson, chair of the history department, demanding his reinstatement.
In the letter, the undersigned ask for a “full and transparent” account of the events that led to Felber’s firing and vow to not speak at, attend events for or associate with the University of Mississippi until Felber is reinstated. The latter promise exempts those who are full-time employees at the university. The letter also states that Felber’s dismissal “has every appearance of being both politically motivated and retaliatory.”
“In the absence of a fuller account of the actual circumstances of Professor Felber’s firing, we understand the firing as an attack on Professor Felber’s commitment to anti-racist political organizing as well as his well-documented history of demanding accountability from the university administration and wealthy donors,” the letter reads.
Felber, who is known in the community for speaking out against racism at the university and mass incarceration across the country, received a letter from Wilson that said his last day as a professor is Dec. 31, 2021.
According to a statement from the university, Felber “did not follow the appropriate process for seeking external funding” when applying for a $42,000 grant in October, which he received but was then rejected by the history department. The grant, according to Felber, would have gone toward various resources for incarcerated people, including books, American Sign Language teams, Spanish translations and closed captioning.
According to a letter from Wilson, Felber refused to communicate with her, but Felber said that he preferred to communicate in writing, rather than in-person meetings.
“Respectfully, your effort to dictate or restrict the means by which I communicate with you is untenable,” Wilson said in the letter. “Your repeated refusal to talk with me makes it impossible for me to maintain a productive working relationship with you or supervise your faculty responsibilities.”
Felber’s termination comes just three months after State Auditor Shad White began investigating professor James Thomas, another outspoken faculty member who participated in a nationwide scholar strike in September. Since then, White has demanded $2,000 from Thomas in exchange for what White claims was an illegal strike. Thomas’s own tenure was debated by the Institutions of Higher Learning Board for two hours after he tweeted a joke about eating a conservative colleague.
Members of the university community have rallied behind Felber. Associated Student Body President Josh Mannery said he was disheartened to see the decision, calling it an example of “UM’s struggle to balance community and unnecessary, back-room politics.”
“This community lacks the basic bonds needed to sustain a culture of trust, and if administration doesn’t begin to fix that, we will continue to lose out,” Mannery said.
Jesse Cromwell, an associate professor in the history department, said that the decision does not represent the feelings or wants of many members of the department. He also said he has heard nothing from official channels about Felber’s firing.
“We have been rebuffed in attempts to get a meeting (or) answers. We are in the dark. We are devastated,” Cromwell said.
At the time of publication, almost 4,000 people have signed the letter demanding for Felber’s reinstatement.