Jacksonville State University has taken some public relations hits in recent months.
Weeks of negative headlines about students charged with sex-related crimes, an emergency board of trustees meeting that ended with President John Beehler taking a 90-day leave to deal with family medical issues, and the filing of a civil lawsuit against the university, all culminated with JSU firing Beehler this past week, only a month into his 90-day leave.
The board voted to terminate Beehler after a two-hour executive session during its regular meeting last Tuesday. Because the university declined to give a cause for the firing, Beehler’s contract requires that JSU give him a 30-day written notice and continue to pay him his full $300,000 salary for another year.
Beehler issued a statement on Thursday to area media that was emailed from a private account. He acknowledged in the email that “... my (JSU) e-mail accounts were shut down” after the termination vote.
So much for a 30-day notice.
Beehler might be out of sight, but by no means are JSU’s difficulties off the radar for those following the developments. In fact, the circumstances surrounding the termination only raise more questions.
Twelve men enrolled at JSU are facing rape-related charges involving two victims. The charges stem from incidents that reportedly occurred on or near JSU’s campus between January and September of this year. The men range in age from 18-22, and the girls are younger than 16, which is what triggered the charges.
Eleven of the men were charged with second-degree rape involving one of the girls, and one man was charged with second-degree sodomy from an incident involving the other girl, according to police reports.
Despite the timing of the arrests, board members have said the emergency meeting where Beehler was granted leave had nothing to do with the investigation into what has become known as the JSU 12.
Days after the emergency meeting last month, a Georgia woman sued JSU and its board of trustees, alleging that the institution’s failure to act resulted in her rape by a JSU basketball player in 2017 when she was participating in a program for incoming freshmen. The woman’s mother in an interview with The Star last year claimed the university attempted a cover-up by working behind the scenes and having a grand jury indictment against the basketball player thrown out.
It all raises some serious questions:
• Was Beehler fired because the board suspected he was involved with a cover-up to protect the basketball player from prosecution?
• Did Beehler direct efforts to have the indictment overturned, or was he directed by all or a portion of the board to make it happen?
• Why would the prosecution in a rape case agree to quash a grand jury indictment to bring the case before a second grand jury, which subsequently dismissed the case?
• Did JSU attorney Sam Monk rely on long-time connections at the Calhoun County Courthouse, where he served as a circuit judge for many years, to have the indictment overturned? (The university has previously denied this.)
• Was Beehler’s firing a way to mitigate potential damages from the civil lawsuit?
Former JSU police Chief Shawn Giddy also filed a complaint against JSU last year, claiming the university fired him for investigating and pursuing rape charges against the basketball player.
Where is the bottom of all this? Who knows.
What we do know is that there was no outcry from the student body or the administration to save Beehler’s job, and there appears to be no timeline to find his permanent replacement. Something doesn’t smell quite right at JSU, and getting rid of Beehler didn’t fix it.