JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The University of Mississippi has reached a settlement with an assistant professor who was terminated after publicly criticizing the school as racist while speaking out for criminal justice reform.
Details of the settlement remained confidential, including how much money the university agreed to paid to Garrett Felber. University officials have never said the tenure-track assistant history professor was fired because of any public statements he had made.
In a December 2020 termination letter from History Department Chair Noell Howell Wilson, Wilson told Felber they had experienced a breakdown in communication after she rejected a grant he was awarded to support a project focusing on mass incarceration and immigrant detention. She said he had refused to meet with her by phone or online, only in writing.
Felber has asserted that his termination was a result of his outspoken criticism of the university.
“We believe that Dr. Felber’s termination violated the First Amendment,” attorney Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice said in a statement Thursday. “This all went down after his very pointed criticisms of the University. The reasons given for the University’s decision don’t hold up and Dr. Felber had an excellent record as a teacher and a faculty member, including stellar reviews from his Department Chair.”
Wilson informed Felber that his contract with the university would end in December 2021. He was on leave at the time from the University of Mississippi at a one-year fellowship at the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.
In October of that year, Felber tweeted that Wilson had rejected a $42,000 grant he had been awarded to support Study and Struggle, a political education project on mass incarceration and immigrant detention. At the same time, the university had recently publicized a grant from FWD.us, an organization centered on American immigration and prison systems reform.
Felber said Wilson told him the Study and Struggle project would be a “political” not “historical” project, and that it could jeopardize department funding.
“The real issue is that (the University of Mississippi) prioritizes racist donors over all else,” he tweeted. “So it’s not some mythic politics v. history binary, but that this antiracist program threatens racist donor money. And racism is the brand. It’s in the name.”
McDuff said Felber decided to settle rather than spend time and resources litigating the matter in court, saying he’d rather spend his energy focusing on his work.
The Associated Press reached out to a university spokesperson for comment and didn’t hear back.