AU employee put on administrative leave for actions at anti-Trump protest will keep job
Scott O’Beirne’s return has prompted plans for a protest calling for his termination
Scott O'Beirne, the library employee involved in an altercation with a student during a campus protest on Nov. 9, will retain his position at AU after being placed on administrative leave in November, according to an university spokeswoman.
During the anti-Trump protest, O’Beirne ran toward and attempted to take a burning flag away from sophomore Ciera Jeffries as she held it in front of the Mary Graydon Center. The situation quickly escalated, leading to a physical altercation between O’Beirne and several protesters. Jeffries accused O’Beirne of grabbing her and pulling her up the stairs as protesters pushed him away from her.
Director of Public Relations Kelly Alexander said in a statement that O’Beirne is an “active AU employee” and has returned to work as the Academic Multimedia Services Coordinator, a position he has held since 2010.
“The university has fully reviewed the incident and has concluded that the staff member is genuinely contrite and understands the necessity not to obstruct others from expressing their views, even when those expressions may deeply hurt and offend,” Alexander said in an email to The Eagle. “We believe the issue has been adequately addressed.”
Jeffries was informed of O’Beirne’s return on Dec. 18 during a phone conversation with Deadre Johnson, the Senior Director of Employee Relations and Recruiting in the Office of Human Resources. Jeffries had expected O’Beirne to lose his job after Johnson told her in an earlier meeting that she “had nothing to worry about” concerning her fears of running into O’Beirne on campus, Jeffries recalled.
“She seemed to strongly hint toward some type of permanent administrative leave,” Jeffries told The Eagle in an interview on Jan. 2. “So when I heard that he was coming back, I was extremely surprised, especially since this is not his only incident.”
The Eagle previously reported that O’Beirne has been reprimanded by the University in the past, including at least two disciplinary policy violations. Junior Jacqueline Bennett, who worked for O’Beirne for a year, and another former employee who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed that one of the violations was issued because O’Beirne said people of Asian descent “all look alike.”
Jeffries accuses University of discrimination
Due to what Jeffries sees as the University’s lack of action in response to O’Beirne’s violations, Jeffries plans to take her case to the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education and has emailed a NAACP official about the incident, she said.
Jeffries’ allegations of discrimination arose in response to Alexander’s statement concerning O’Beirne’s military service. Describing the events of Nov. 9, Alexander wrote that several people who observed the flag burning found it “deeply painful and disrespectful, particularly those in the crowd who [were] veterans and service members.” O’Beirne’s LinkedIn profile states that he has been in the Army National Guard since 2014.
“In the moment, and while emotions were high, one such [service member] – an AU staff member – attempted to remove a protester’s flag in an effort to prevent her from desecrating it,” Alexander said in her statement.
Jeffries said she understands how burning an American flag could make service members more angry because it’s something they fought for, but that they should carry themselves in a different way due to their training.
“When you became a serviceman, when you took on that title, you chose to uphold certain things, and [free speech] is one,” Jeffries said. “If they’re giving him special treatment because he’s a serviceman, that’s BS. I feel like they’re giving me the exact opposite type of treatment because one, I’m female, and two, because I’m black. I feel like had he been a black man, he would have been fired already. Had I been a male or white student, he would have been fired already.”
She expressed her first amendment right and participated in the protest, Jeffries said, and now administrators are punishing her.
“At this point, it’s not even a ‘saving face’ kind of thing, which is what I always blame the school for doing,” Jeffries said. “It’s just blatantly disrespecting me, and it’s ridiculous.”
Next moves for Jeffries and organizers
After hearing about O’Beirne’s return to campus, student organizers are planning a demonstration calling for the termination of his contract. Junior and American Association of University Women at AU president DeLancey Lane said she has spoken with about 10 other organizers but that no decisions about a protest have been set yet.
“With their choice not to fire O’Beirne, the university has essentially said that staff members are allowed to attack students with no repercussions,” Lane said in a message to The Eagle. “We protest his ability to walk around on this campus freely while students fear for their safety.”
Lane also cited the University’s lack of communication about the incident as a top concern for organizers. Jeffries is studying abroad in the spring and cannot attend a protest, but has spoken with Lane and other students about writing a statement to be read at the demonstration. The fallout from the incident has cemented Jeffries’ determination to transfer to another college next fall.
“I feel like I’ve lost all hope in the administration’s ability to actually keep students safe and to actually care about their needs and do what they can to handle it,” Jeffries said. “Until people actually get riled up about it, like I’m hoping they do at this protest, then it’s going to continue to go on like this.”