by John Stephen
The investigation into events involving former VSU professor Dr. Mark George has concluded, finding that no wrongdoing took place in the VSU administration’s treatment of Dr. George last summer.
The University System of Georgia’s director of ethics and compliance, Wesley Horne, conducted the review after Dr. George and VSU President William McKinney separately requested it.
This report stems from a dispute between the VSU administration and Dr. George, a sociology professor at VSU until May 2014. Dr. George said that in the summer of 2014, VSU acted against him for political reasons, while VSU maintained all actions concerning Dr. George were routine procedures.
The investigation results, published on Dec. 2 as a letter to Dr. McKinney, center on three issues: the deactivation of Dr. George’s VSU email account, funds for the Mary Turner Project, and Dr. George’s claim that VSU failed to comply with Georgia Open Records law.
The Email Account
On July 28, 2014, Dr. George’s university email account was deactivated. At this time, Dr. George was no longer employed at VSU. Horne’s report found that the email deactivation was in line with USG IT policy, which requires the accounts of former employees to be terminated 30 days after they leave VSU.
Dr. George alleged that his account was shut down due to a specific email he sent and a subsequent complaint. Last summer, Dr. George sent an email, in conjunction with Rev. Floyd Rose from the NAACP, to Georgia legislators, asking them to withdraw state support for Confederate memorials.
John C. Hall, Jr., a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, complained about the email to Dr. McKinney, saying Dr. George shouldn’t be using his VSU email for political activism.
Horne’s report advised VSU to allow Dr. George access to the emails and contacts from his VSU account.
The Mary Turner Project Funds
Dr. George is the founder of the MTP, a social justice organization that compiles slave census data and a history of U.S. lynchings. Funds for the MTP existed under the VSU Foundation Account, and last summer Dr. George requested that these funds, totaling $277, be released to a sister organization called Save Our Children.
VSU refused this request on the grounds that there had to be evidence the money would be used in accordance with state and federal law. At this point, Dr. George said VSU had “seized” these funds and were holding them illegally.
Horne’s investigative report says VSU was justified in its actions, but VSU is willing to work with the MTP and Save Our Children to transfer the funds.
The Open Records Request
Soon after Dr. George’s email account was shut down, he sent out open records requests to numerous VSU officials, asking for any emails or documents that discussed himself or the MTP. VSU estimated that the total cost of this request would be $606, but ended up being only $105.
Dr. George said the estimate was unreasonable and meant to deter him from getting the documents requested. However, Horne’s report says that VSU’s estimated and actual cost for Dr. George’s request was reasonable considering the large amount of material that had to be reviewed.
Dr. George disputes the findings of the investigation and said he is still considering legal action against VSU.
Since the report’s publication, Dr. George continues to email VSU and USG officials, maintaining he was wronged by VSU and demanding action. He also sent an email to VSU alumni and MTP members, asking them to withhold financial support from VSU.
“As I feared when I filed my complaint, the USG failed to address the evidence I provided them with, and it is clear they simply worked to generate a justification for Dr. McKinney’s unethical actions in order to do ‘damage control’ and in the event I file a lawsuit,” Dr. George said.
Dr. Kimberly Luse, VSU chief of staff, said that considering the storm of controversy surrounding this situation, the VSU administration is glad an unbiased third-party was able to step in and clear things up.