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Update: UT professor initially fired over Harvey tweet resigns instead

The University of Tampa
The University of Tampa
Published Aug. 31, 2017

TAMPA — The University of Tampa on Thursday took back its decision to fire the sociology professor who famously drew outrage after his tweet about Tropical Storm Harvey.

But he'll still be a former employee.

The school said in a statement that after "ongoing discussions" with professor Kenneth Storey it "rescinded his dismissal and accepted his resignation from the university."

The apparent deal came after the American Association of University Professors called on the school to immediately reinstate him.

Storey said he couldn't go into the details, but was sad to see his presence on campus become a disruption. The college brought in extra security as extreme reactions to his tweet poured in, he said. Even his father, undergoing chemotherapy, was getting death threats.

"At the end of the day, my actions shouldn't cause them to be in danger. What I did was wrong," Storey said. "I teach freshmen and this was the second day of college for them, and they deserve better than that."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: UT fires teacher whose tweet blamed Harvey on Texas GOP vote

Storey, a visiting faculty member, was fired for a tweet suggesting that Harvey's devastation was "instant karma" for Texas, which voted Republican.

The university initially sought to distance itself from Storey with a public statement condemning his views. But online outrage continued, fueled by social media and conservative news sites that ran with the story. Incensed alumni and parents left comments on UT's social media pages.

By Tuesday morning, the university fired him.

"Given how public the university was in dismissing this faculty member, it seemed to be more appropriate for our response to be public as well," said Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary for the AAUP.

Based in Washington, D.C., the nonprofit faculty organization advances academic freedom and helps define standards in higher education. For instance, UT's faculty handbook embraces AAUP standards for how universities may respond to professors' off-duty speech, or "external utterances."

"By all appearances, they're just ignoring them," Tiede said.

Storey was denied a customary hearing to show that UT had just cause to fire him, the AAUP said in a letter, putting UT "fundamentally at odds with basic standards of academic due process."

Added Tiede: "What is particularly concerning about the university is not that they failed to defend him, but that they in fact fired him. That's much worse. We don't expect that a university would defend whatever a faculty member says, but they certainly should defend his or her right to say it."

The university declined to comment beyond the statement about Storey's resignation, saying it was a personnel matter.

Storey said he hopes to teach again one day. He does not fault the university, saying he understands that, for UT, safety had to come first.

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"I'm very proud of my time there," he said. "And I'm ashamed of what I brought to the school."

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