Former Charleston Southern University professor Paul Roof, who was fired May 30 after his image appeared on a beer can, says he will not seek to return to his position at the school.
“I will not be trying to get my job back,” Roof says in an e-mail. “The #rehireroof campaigns, etc., were grassroots and done by friends, students, supporters, etc., and I was honored, humbled, and flattered to see that happen. And I see it as a testament of sowing the seeds of goodwill in my profession for the last 15 years (the last six of which were at CSU).”
Shortly before the university declined to renew Roof’s contract, Roof’s image started appearing on cans of beer from Holy City Brewing. According to Roof, Vice President of Academic Affairs Jackie Fish told him that “this was not an image for the Christian environment and that it may seem to students that I am endorsing the use of alcohol.” Fish did not respond to a request for comment, but the university released a lengthy statement June 3 that was nonetheless scarce on details.
“While difficult decisions must sometimes be made, there should be no misunderstanding that fidelity to the university’s values are always paramount,” the statement read. The statement also clarified that Roof’s firing had nothing to do with his consumption of alcohol (which is not forbidden in the school’s code of faculty conduct) nor with his award-winning facial hair, and that charitable activities like the fundraisers put on by Roof’s Holy City Beard & Moustache Society are “encouraged by the University.” The statement continued:
While some comments in traditional and social media have included unflattering characterizations of the university — the reality is quite different. The university is committed to promoting academic excellence in a Christian environment. To achieve this aim, the university reaches out to the entire community, in all of its diversity.
“The university acknowledges and appreciates your concern and prayers about this matter. Fall enrollment projections indicate CSU will experience the largest enrollment in university’s history. Fundraising results for this fiscal year exceeded goals. May God continue to bless Charleston Southern University as it fulfills its mission.”
Shortly after news of Roof’s firing broke, the City Paper was contacted by Kris Shaffer, a former CSU music professor who left the school in 2013 to teach at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He said he had left CSU after seeing “the writing on the wall.”
Part of the problem, he says, was theological. “I saw the stuff that was being put forward through campus ministries and chapel services as being inconsistent with what I thought Biblical Christianity was and what I was comfortable with supporting,” Shaffer says.
The other part of the problem had to do with academic freedom. “CSU has a great academic freedom statement in their faculty handbook,” Shaffer says, noting that it actually comes close to the very liberal guidelines set forth by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). However, Shaffer says the will of administrators and certain unwritten rules sometimes trumped the official policy.
“As a Calvinist, as someone who likes beer, as someone who would sit down with one of the elders at my Southern Baptist Church and have a pint of Sam Adams while we talked theology, as someone who is kind of a moderate liberal politically … I knew it was not going to work for me long-term,” Shaffer says. “It was not a place where, if I followed the rules, I would be OK, necessarily, because of my minority position on some hot-button issues.”
Despite closely adhering to the AAUP’s recommendations in its official policies, CSU has caught flak from the organization in the past. In 2001, the AAUP censured the university’s administration for its dismissal of a longtime faculty member and denial of reappointment to another. In a lengthy report published in Academe, the organization wrote that CSU “effectively lacks a system of faculty tenure.” As of 2008, the AAUP had not received a response from the administration.
In theological terms, Shaffer says CSU’s problem has to do with neonomianism — not so much the strict enforcement of old rules, but rather the imposition of new ones. Christian colleges’ rules against drinking or the promotion of drinking, he says, are rooted not in the historical confessions of any Christian denomination but in the temperance movement of the 19th century.
At CSU, Shaffer says faculty members were sometimes powerless or unwilling to stand against the administration.
“The students are in a position of power,” Shaffer says. “They’re paying tuition to a school that is tuition-driven. The administrators that they might fall afoul of are not grading their exams.”
But with most students away for the summer, there has not been a significant student protest movement on campus. After seeking additional information on Roof’s firing from the CSU administration and receiving none beyond the school’s press release, the CSU Student Government Association issued the following statement June 4:
While the true purpose of termination is not clear, it must be interpreted that the university mission and/or staff policy was breached, thus, action had to be taken. We are extremely saddened to have lost a phenomenal professor in Dr. Roof and pray blessings over his next endeavors.”
As for Roof, he says he had a similar experience to Shaffer’s during his time at CSU. “I can’t speak to Kris Shaffer’s situation as I do not know him,” Roof says. “But yes, there is a culture of firing and a fear of being fired that is present and now obvious.”