University of North Carolina Wilmington Professor Whose 'Hurtful' Tweets Led to Resignation Found Dead
A University of North Carolina at Wilmington professor who was forced to retire with a hefty settlement following public outcry over a series of “hurtful” tweets was found dead at his home on Thursday, according to school and multiple reports.
Mike Adams, a former criminology professor at the school, was found alone in his home around 2 p.m. during a welfare check, Jerry Brewer, a public information officer for the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, told CNN.
An investigation into his death is ongoing, according to Brewer, who did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
“Please keep his friends and loved ones in your thoughts,” the school said in a statement confirming his death.
Adams was set to retire early on Aug. 1 in light of the “public attention” generated by his tweets in late May, UNCW Chancellor Jose Sartarelli said in a statement.
Several tweets were misogynistic, while others were critical of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, and claimed North Carolina residents were living in a “slave state.”
“This evening I ate pizza and drank beer with six guys at a six seat table top. I almost felt like a free man who was not living in the slave state of North Carolina. Massa Cooper, let my people go!” Adams wrote on May 29, during the state's phase two of reopening in the coronavirus pandemic and following police brutality protests sparked by George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody.
The day before, Adams also tweeted: “Don’t shut down the universities. Shut down the non essential majors. Like Women’s Studies,” and, “Roy Cooper just said that we need more pole workers. By that, he meant strippers.”
The tweets drew strong backlash from the school community, including several Change.org petitions to have Adams fired.
Sartarelli initially said that the school was aware of Adams’ comments, but that his free speech was protected by the First Amendment and contained no evidence of threats.
“Hateful, hurtful language aimed at degrading others is contrary to our university values and our commitment to an environment of respect and dignity. Its appearance on any platform, including the personal platforms of anyone affiliated with UNCW, is absolutely reprehensible,” the school said in a statement.
Sartarelli later announced that after a discussion with Adams, the professor agreed to retire, effective Aug. 1.
The chancellor said Adams had reached a settlement with the school worth $504,702 for lost salary and lost retirement benefits that was to be paid out over five years.
Because Adams was a senior tenured faculty member, Sartarelli said, the school had three options: keep him on, try to fire him or negotiate a settlement.
Sartarelli warned that an attempt to terminate Adams would result in “very costly” litigation, similar to a First Amendment retaliation lawsuit Adams filed — and won — in 2014. That suit cost the school about $700,000, and Sartarelli said a similar suit could cost even more.
“This approach allows us to resolve the situation quickly, with certainty, and in the most fiscally responsible way,” he wrote. “This is the best option for our university and our community.”
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