Chancellor: There was “breakdown in communication” in handling of Till photo

Published 12:42 pm Tuesday, July 30, 2019

On Monday night, University of Mississippi interim chancellor Larry Sparks clarified the school’s position regarding a photo of three students posing with guns in front of a historical marker honoring Emmett Till.

Ole Miss first learned of the photo in March through a Bias Incident Report, where the school then passed the photo to the appropriate authorities – local and federal. The University’s first statement regarding the photo included its position of not taking any action toward the students, due to the incident not being in violation of the UM code of conduct and not taking place at a University-affiliated event.

Sparks sent out an update on Monday, stating there was a “breakdown in communication” discovered when an internal review was conducted last week in the handling of the photo, given the University was aware of it four months earlier.

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Given that we first learned about this incident in March, the university launched an internal review last week of our handling of the incident report about the photo, and we discovered a breakdown in communications between units on our campus,” Sparks’ statement read. “Our ongoing review has updated our understanding of some key facts in this process, and we are committed to keeping you informed.”

On March 6, the University received a Bias Incident Report with the names of two people included in it. The Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) then notified the University Police Department, the Dean of Students, the Office of Conflict and Resolution and Student Conduct and Fraternal Leadership and Learning within the first 24 hours. The following day the University confirmed one of the two names submitted was currently enrolled at Ole Miss during the spring semester, while the other name was not.

The UPD then informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the allegations to allow them to look into the matter further. Because the FBI had been informed, the Offices of Conflict and Resolution and Student Conduct and Fraternal Leadership and Learning chose to not take any further action until hearing back from the FBI. This is a clarification, and a correction, of a previous statement the University put out last week.

Nearly two weeks later, BIRT asked for an update from UPD on March 20. UPD told them the FBI had not gotten back to them. On April 2, the FBI informed UPD they had concluded their investigation and noted the photo did not pose a specific threat. Due to what Sparks’ statement called a “lapse in communication,” several other University groups were not made aware of the FBI’s decision.

All staff members who were involved in this process demonstrated an ongoing commitment to deal with this matter seriously, and the University is committed to ensuring that this process will function as intended,” Sparks said in the statement. “At the same time, we are continuing our review of the actions by the university and the processes that will govern such actions in the future. We will continue to update the university community on our progress. “

At this time, the BIRT process has not concluded and the University will proceed accordingly to make all appropriate referrals and decisions, according to the statement.