COLUMBIA — At 1:45 p.m. Friday, members of the Columbia community gathered next to the Islamic Center of Central Missouri with signs protesting Larry James’ candidacy for an MU College of Education position.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away at Hill Hall, the college held a news conference to say James will continue to be a finalist for the position.
"The committee and I felt strongly that we have to have high levels of respect, responsibility, transparency and fairness in this process for Dr. James and give him the opportunity first-hand to respond to these concerns," education Dean Daniel Clay said.
The 40 or so protesters marched first to Hill Hall, where the College of Education is based, and then to Jesse Hall to present an anti-James petition to administrators.
The petition, which had about 65 signatures gathered in about one hour Friday, asked for the removal of James as a candidate for the position of division executive director of the college.
One of two finalists, James has been the dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, since 2008. Before that, he was in charge of behavioral science consultation teams at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
"Does the University of Missouri want to be bringing onto their campus, in a leadership role, an individual who was on the center stage of the Guantanamo debacle?" Jeff Stack, coordinator for the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, said to Ann McGruder, executive assistant to Chancellor Brady Deaton, during the group's stop at Jesse Hall
McGruder met the protesters in the lobby of Jesse Hall outside Deaton's office and said she would relay messages to him.
The Division Executive Director Search Committee has thoroughly investigated the multiple allegations made against James, Clay said at the news conference. The committee found that James has not been sanctioned a single time by a state licensing agency, ethics board or court, he said.
"Only after coming to that determination did they choose to include Dr. James in this final pool of candidates," Clay said. "I have read every available document that’s public with respect to Dr. James’ situation, and I support the committee’s decision to bring him in as a candidate, given the lack of substantive finding relating to any of those allegations by a court, ethics board or state licensing agency."
James is scheduled to interview at MU on Tuesday and Wednesday. The other candidate, Matthew Burns of the University of Minnesota, has completed his interview.
The most important thing in moving forward is fairness and transparency in the selection process, Clay said.
James should be treated "in the same way I expect to treat those protesters, who have a difference of opinion and an important voice in this process," Clay said. "I’m sure they deserve the same level of respect and fairness."
Clay, who came out to meet the protesters when they congregated outside Hill Hall, told them he would listen to their concerns.
A common theme among the protesters was that even though James has never been indicted, hiring him would damage MU’s image.
"The behavior that Dr. James allowed violates the core values of this university," MU student Mahir Khan said.
The MU Muslim Student Organization passed a resolution Thursday stating it is against the hiring of James.
“These people should be held accountable, not rewarded with jobs at prestigious universities,” MSO Vice President Aamer Trambu said.
MU School of Medicine student Nabihah Maqbool, who will have received four degrees from MU in 10 years by 2016, said MU should not be condoning human rights abuses or a man who allowed them to happen.
"It’s important that we (at MU) make sure that we uphold the highest moral standards, and as a student here, I don’t want my institution to be smoked by this single individual," Maqbool said. "I am a student, and I will be an alumna for the rest of my life, and this is not the type of person that I want representing my school of education."
Stack said the protest began to form late Wednesday after he heard about James’ candidacy.
"The short turnaround time is not an acceptable excuse for inaction," he said. "If we have to expand this campaign, we will."
A public forum with James will be held at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Reynolds Alumni Center. The first portion will consist of a presentation, and the second portion will allow for the public to ask James questions.
After the interview process is complete, faculty and staff will have time to provide feedback to the committee, Clay said. The committee will then make a recommendation, and Clay said he will make additional reference checks before finalizing a decision. The candidate will likely be selected in early March.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.