Charleston Southern University associate professor Paul Roof says the school fired him Friday after his bearded visage appeared on cans of Holy City Brewing’s Chucktown Follicle Brown.
“They said 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,” says Roof, who taught at the university for seven years and also founded the social club Holy City Beard & Moustache Society. HCBMS hosts beard and mustache competitions as charity fundraisers for ovarian cancer patients and their families.
Charleston Southern is affiliated with the S.C. Baptist Convention, and potential employees must write a statement of faith when applying for a position. The City Paper sent a request for comment to several CSU administrators and received the following response from John Strubel, the school’s director of integrated marketing: “Your request is a personnel matter and we do not share personnel information.”
Roof has entered and won competitions nationwide, including 1st Place Freestyle Beard in the 2011 Miami Beard & Moustache Championships. The photo of a cowboy hat-bedecked Roof and his carefully waxed whiskers was taken by Las Vegas photographer Greg Anderson at the 2013 Beard and Moustache National Championships in New Orleans. Before it appeared on a beer can, the image was used on posters for the interactive conference Dig South 2014, where Roof emceed the Culturama finale event at the Alley. It has also been used by the Lubbock, Texas, branch of the Christian organization Young Life, which, if you scroll through its Facebook page, appears to have an abiding fascination with facial hair.
Roof taught sociology in CSU’s behavioral sciences department, where his classes included American Popular Culture, Urban Sociology, and Social Research Methods. To him, he said, the widely varying use of his own bearded image was an interesting case study.
“It’s a symbol, and symbols get used in all different locations and venues and areas, and it was on the beer can,” Roof says. “I don’t own the image, I have not been compensated for the image, and the brewery didn’t come to me and say, ‘Hey, Paul, can we use your picture?’ They’re friends of mine, and they said, ‘We’re doing a beer can,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool.’ I’m not in control of somebody else’s business. They don’t have to ask my permission.”
As for his future with the school, Roof says he is “in the process of getting an employment attorney.”
“My wife’s about to get on a plane to go to Albuquerque, N.M., for a conference, and she’s like, ‘OK, this is great, what are we going to do now?’ But you have to stand up for what’s right,” Roof says.
Roof says he talked about the beer can earlier in the week with Keith Callis, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Roof says Callis said he was “comfortable with it.” But on Friday at 1 p.m., Vice President of Academic Affairs Jackie Fish held a meeting with Roof to tell him he was losing his job. Roof had been promoted earlier in the year from assistant professor to associate professor.
“When I was brought into the meeting Friday, [Callis] was obviously upset seeing what was about to happen,” Roof says. “My department chair did not even know I was going to be terminated Friday.”
Roof says the impetus for the meeting was a Facebook post from Total Wine & More that showed Roof’s image on a sales display for Holy City Follicle Brown, which the brewery started selling in cans this month. Roof was tagged in the photo, and some CSU students Liked the photo on Facebook.
The code of conduct for CSU employees does not prohibit the drinking or promotion of alcohol, but it does include the following clause:
“We each are responsible for safeguarding and promoting Charleston Southern University through ethical and principled leadership and action that is informed and directed by our core values. This type of ethical and principled leadership is sometimes difficult. There will be times when situations will involve subtleties and complexities that lead to difficult choices. When in doubt, ask yourself whether you feel confident that your actions and decisions would withstand objective scrutiny.”
CSU is affiliated with the Southern Baptist denomination, and some Southern Baptist churches have strict rules against behaviors including dancing and drinking alcohol. Roof, on the other hand, is a member of James Island Presbyterian Church. Churches in the Presbyterian denomination tend not to prohibit drinking, and some even host fellowship events in bars.
According to the Holy City Brewing website, the company created Follicle Brown last summer to commemorate HCBMS’ hosting of the 4th Annual Southeastern Beard & Moustache Championships. “There is some magical, unspoken connection between folks that make beer for a living and folks that dig on facial hair,” the website states.
Roof shared the news of his firing with students and friends in a Facebook post Friday, writing, “If this news upsets you, feel free to contact your administration.” Friends of Roof have also started a page on GoFundMe.com to raise money for the Center for Women in Roof’s name.
Beard and mustache competitions hosted by HCBMS have raised more than $25,000 to date for Lowcountry Women With Wings, a service of the Center for Women that provides education and support services for families dealing with ovarian cancer.