CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Near the clock tower on West Virginia State University's campus Wednesday, a portrait of a beloved professor emerged.
Students were there for a rally in support of Sundjata ibn-Hyman, an associate professor of sociology, whose contract has not been renewed by the university beyond May. They're urging the university to reconsider its decision.
Students recently voted ibn-Hyman "professor of the year." A university spokesperson rejected that distinction Tuesday because it resulted from write-in ballots cast by students in tandem with a student government election rather than a process sanctioned by school administrators.
But at Wednesday's protest students held signs saying "Professor of the year, duplicate not terminate," and "We want a voice in our education." More than 30 students were there at one point.
The assembled students all had taken one or more of ibn-Hyman's classes, and many said they had been touched by his passionate approach to teaching and the personal connections he made with students.
"He was the only teacher to take into account my domestic abuse situation," said Natasha Smith, a junior. "He didn't push my incomplete assignments off as just another lazy student; he saw them as a cry for help."
She said the professor spoke with her personally about her missing work and prodded her to get it done.
Alisha Evans, a senior, said he helped open her mind to new ways of thinking. She said he's worldly -- the ideal sociology teacher.
"I think that the state of West Virginia needs more people like him," she said. "He can open us up to more than the teachers who were just based in West Virginia, as great as some of them are."
The rally was a last resort for the students, who started with letters to administrators and a meeting with administrators in the provost's office but got nowhere.
Requests for an audience with University President Brian Hemphill were rebuffed. A university spokesman said that's because the decision not to renew ibn-Hyman's contract came from the provost's office, not the president.
Ibn-Hyman hasn't responded to requests for comment.
Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.ma...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.