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Students plan rally in support of ousted W.Va. State professor

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Students at West Virginia State University have mounted a grassroots campaign to show support for a beloved professor, in the hopes the school will reconsider its decision not to renew that professor's contract.

The students will hold a rally on campus at 9 a.m. today to draw attention to the issue and urge the university to be more transparent in its decision-making process.  

"It's not a threat," said Cheryl Laws, one of the students organizing the rally. "It's more of a plea. We're mature, educated adults."

Students say Sundjata ibn-Hyman, an associate professor of sociology, was voted "professor of the year" by the student body. Donna Simon, a university spokeswoman, denied the validity of that distinction, saying the school doesn't hold elections for a "professor of the year."

The voting was done through a write-in ballot in tandem with an election for student government positions.

Simon did confirm that ibn-Hyman's contract has not been renewed beyond May, but refused to say why, citing privacy limitations in discussing personnel matters.

When students heard ibn-Hyman had been let go, some were outraged. Together they embarked on a quest to root out the cause of his ouster, and to try to reverse the university's decision.  

"When you sit in his classroom, you think this is what a teacher should be," said Courtney Smith, a junior criminal justice major who is also helping to organize the rally. "I don't understand why they're not duplicating him, but instead they're getting rid of him."

They started with letters to university administrators. When that didn't yield results, they tried scheduling a meeting with President Brian Hemphill but were rebuffed.

Simon says that was because the decision didn't come from the president's office, but from the provost's office. The students were eventually granted a meeting with Ramon Stuart, the interim assistant provost. More than 20 people attended.

Laws said Stuart seemed sympathetic, but that meeting ultimately resulted in a letter from the provost saying it was a personnel matter.

"They heard us out but you could tell, I could tell, that it really fell on deaf ears," Smith said.

That's when the group decided to hold a public rally. It's scheduled just an hour before state Supreme Court justices are set to hold hearings on campus. The high court occasionally holds sessions outside regular chambers for educational purposes.

Simon said school officials had not been notified of the students' plans and would not comment on the rally.

Ibn-Hyman didn't respond to requests for comment.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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