SAN JOSE -- News that a black freshman was relentlessly tormented by his white roommates for weeks in their San Jose State dormitory is raising new questions about the leadership and direction of a campus that has been hit by one public crisis after another this year.
Budget problems, a student claiming a lecturer assaulted her, and a failed online education experiment have cast the flagship campus in a negative light, leading some students and faculty to criticize their president, Mo Qayoumi.
And this week, when the year's troubles culminated in the worst of all, students demanded to know what the campus will do to protect others from harassment -- and why their president was at a meeting in Wisconsin, rather than with them, as they marched across campus Thursday to express their outrage.
Qayoumi did not respond directly to the critics Friday but said in his first interview since this week's crisis unraveled: "Everyone is so outraged. It really takes us back to say, 'What do we need to learn from this, and how we can focus as a community on how to improve things?'"
That reflective point of view might not satisfy critics.
"I think at this point students are becoming more fed up with President Mo," said SJSU student Daniel Harris-Lucas, who said student leaders had trouble getting on his calendar for a meeting.
Qayoumi on Friday promised a full investigation, student discipline and an examination of residence hall practices.
"Our goal is including race-based misconduct in existing student conduct zero-tolerance policies," he said in a statement sent to students and employees.
He said they will review -- and make public -- what happened after dorm resident assistants noticed a Confederate flag displayed in a window and asked the students to take it down, as reported by the authorities.
Now, many are asking why it took a month to suspend the students when university police immediately flagged the situation as a hate crime, and why only two of the four students accused in the case were immediately removed from the suite. Qayoumi said those questions would be reviewed.
Prosecutors have charged the roommates Logan Beaschler, 18, of Bakersfield; Joseph Bomgardner, 19, of Clovis; Colin Warren, 18, of Woodacre; and an unidentified juvenile with misdemeanor hate-crime and battery.
It has been a difficult year on campus. Just days before news of the racial bullying case shattered the campus calm, SJSU's Academic Senate took the unusual step of asking the California State University chancellor to review how the school is run, saying communication with the administration was poor and faculty morale was at an all-time low. Tensions peaked this fall when the administration directed departments to make last-minute cuts in spring courses, only to reverse itself after an outcry from students and faculty.
"This president, unlike the six or seven presidents I've seen at SJSU, has the most top-down management style," said Jonathan Karpf, an anthropology lecturer and California Faculty Association officer. "He's not somebody who handles dissent very effectively."
Some of the setbacks -- such as the disappointing online education test project with the online education company Udacity -- might have been avoided if Qayoumi had listened to faculty concerns, Karpf said.
Others say it's not fair to blame the president for everything that goes wrong on a campus.
"Some of it is pure happenstance," said Sigurd Meldal, chairman of the computer engineering department.
The news this week was ugly: Investigators have charged four white San Jose State students -- all freshmen -- with misdemeanor hate-crime and battery against their black roommate. They are accused of nicknaming him "three-fifths," the way the early federal government used to count blacks as less than a person; displaying a Confederate flag and Nazi symbols in the room; and fastening a bicycle lock around his neck, among other abuses.
All four students have been suspended -- the fourth on Thursday after the other three -- and will remain out of school throughout the campus investigation, San Jose State officials confirmed.
Qayoumi was in Milwaukee for a Project Lead the Way meeting -- a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) outreach project -- on Wednesday evening when he learned that the district attorney had charged the students with crimes. He said he couldn't have made it back until late Thursday, so he decided not to cut his trip short.
On Monday, Qayoumi will hold a joint news conference with the Rev. Jethroe Moore II, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP civil rights group. The campus will hold a forum in early December on the subject and present a lecture series on diversity and tolerance next semester, the president said.
"The campus has such a history of integrated diversity," Meldal said. "It is a blow to what we consider ourselves to be."
The racial bullying allegations were heartbreaking, said John Carlos, the 1968 Olympics bronze medalist and a model for the iconic Black Power statue where Thursday's on-campus rally was held.
"At San Jose State, that monument was established to promote diversity, love, understanding and respect," Carlos, a former SJSU student, told Dave Zirin of the Nation. "It is very difficult for me wake up and think that the school would be a place where students feel they can act in such a manner and think they can just abuse a person of color in such a way.
"Once again we are bitten by the ugly bear of racism. ... This cannot stand."
Staff writers Elliott Almond and Tracey Kaplan contributed to this report. Follow Katy Murphy at Twitter.com/katymurphy.