The Franklin College Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Baldwin Hall released a 31-page report on April 17 condemning the University of Georgia’s response to the Athens and UGA communities’ concerns regarding the human remains found near Baldwin Hall in 2015. UGA administrators allegedly intimidated faculty who have conducted slavery research, the report said.
In October 2016, Digital Humanities Professor Scott Nesbit said the university should acknowledge its history of slavery at an Athens Historical Society meeting, and his comment was reported in the Athens Banner-Herald. An unnamed UGA administrator told Nesbit that Pamela Whitten, the provost at the time, “was not pleased with his remark,” the report said.
According to the report, the unnamed administrator told Nesbit that Whitten “was considering measures that would make it impossible for [Nesbit] ever to gain employment at other universities.” The provost could not take action to block Nesbit’s tenure, the report said.
Whitten, now the president at Kennesaw State University, had not responded to The Red & Black’s request for comment as of press time.
The university said Nesbit’s comment was a form of “activism,” but UGA never said why his action was political, the report said.
“Such politicization of the work of teaching by administration is inappropriate at any time,” the report said. “When accompanied by threats of punishment, it demands the attention of all faculty and administrators concerned with academic freedom and with the integrity of teaching and scholarship.”
Nesbit declined to comment on the matter.
Most of the remains found during the Baldwin Hall expansion project were of people of African descent. The report alleges Nesbit could have aided in research regarding the remains and slavery. He has since decided to “stay away from Baldwin Hall” in his course on the history of slavery at UGA, the report said.
The report also alleges UGA mistreated anthropology professor Laurie Reitsema, who led the bioarchaeological study of the remains found at Baldwin.
On March 20, 2018, Reitsema gave a presentation to the Franklin College Faculty Senate detailing the background of the research at Baldwin Hall, community concerns, faculty concerns and items for consideration. An article about the presentation and the meeting was published in the Athens Banner-Herald.
In response to the ABH article, UGA Executive Director of Media Communications Greg Trevor wrote an opinion article that condemned the Faculty Senate’s discussion of the Baldwin Hall research- including Reitsema’s presentation.
“Ironically, Dr. Reitsema is now one of the faculty members apparently criticizing the [research] efforts of the institution — efforts to which she was a major contributor,” Trevor said in the article.
The report condemned UGA’s “public targeting” of Reitsema.
“A direct apology to Dr. Reitsema and an explicit condemnation of her mistreatment by senior administrators and officials is imperative,” the report said.
In an interview with The Red & Black, Reitsema said she did not feel pressured by UGA to conduct her research in a certain way.
Reitsema declined to comment on the report’s request for an apology.
UGA President Jere Morehead said he supports “the ideals of academic freedom” and rights protected by the First Amendment in an April 5, 2018 letter to former Franklin College Faculty Senate President Mary Bedell. However, the report said these “platitudes” are not adequate in condemning Trevor’s previous statement.
When UGA Associate Vice President for Facilities Planning Gwynne Darden spoke with Reitsema regarding the DNA analysis results on the phone, Reitsema “stressed unequivocally that it was incumbent” upon UGA to consult with possible descendant communities. Reitsema’s advice “reflects well-established ethical standards governing anthropological research” and was not founded on personal views, the report said.
The report calls on UGA to apologize to Reitsema and to condemn “administrative maligning of faculty expertise.”
The report also said the UGA administration should apologize to the “descendant community” of the people whose remains were found under Baldwin and then consult with the Athens community regarding the remaining graves and further genetic study of the remains found at the site.
In an email statement to The Red & Black, Trevor said UGA respects the rights of faculty to criticize the university administration. However, UGA disagrees with the “unsubstantiated” allegations and views in the report, Trevor said.
“We will continue to move forward constructively advancing the mission of the University, committed to the promotion of diversity and inclusion for all our faculty, staff, and students,” Trevor said.
Faculty Senators will vote to accept or reject the report’s findings at 3:30 p.m. on April 23 in Zell B. Miller Learning Center room 248. The meeting is open to the public.