A University of Richmond professor retired within a week of telling his class he was about to be arrested, leaving two first-year seminar courses with new instructors four weeks before final exams.
David Mark Rhodes was an associate professor of art at University of Richmond since 1987. He was teaching three classes this semester — two sections of the first-year seminar “Contemplative Traditions in Art,” and one section of “Introduction to Sculpture” alongside professor Fiona Donaghey Ross.
Last Wednesday, Rhodes walked into what would be his last class at the university flustered and shaking, according to three students in the class. He explained to the first-year students in the course that he had been in an altercation earlier that morning.
Rhodes told the class that he may be arrested for assault and that the police could come in at any moment. “He was kind of joking about them coming in any second, but then he got really serious and he got kind of nervous, it seemed,” one student, who The Collegian has allowed to remain anonymous, said.
“None of us really knew how to react to that,” Caroline Thomas, WC ‘20, said.
“He just said that he wished he didn’t have such a temper because it would’ve stopped him from doing whatever he did earlier that day, and then he went on to describe it as a fight,” the anonymous student said.
After a notable period of silence, the class continued its discussion of the assigned reading and were dismissed within 15 minutes of the start of class, Thomas said.
In a phone interview Wednesday, when asked for comment on the possible arrest, Rhodes laughed. “I was talked to, I was not arrested,” Rhodes said.
According to the Richmond-Times Dispatch, Rhodes was arrested on two counts of arson after setting fire to an art studio and vehicle trailer at his home in Goochland, Virginia on July 28, 2015.
Rhodes was charged on Sept. 14, 2015 and spent the fall semester on sabbatical, Cynthia Price, Richmond’s director of media and public relations, said on the phone Thursday. He returned to campus in the spring of 2016 in a special projects capacity and resumed his regular teaching load that fall, Price said.
The university’s procedure to determine whether a professor is suitable to return to campus following a criminal charge involves assessing the nature of the charge and whether that person represents a threat, Price said.
“To help us do that, we call on a variety of resources including internal risk assessors, human resources,” Price said, “and then in some instances we also call on external threat-assessment individuals including from the medical community.” Price said that appropriate action is then taken by the university based on the assessment’s findings.
Rhodes said he was unable to give a reason about why he retired mid-semester. Price said she was unable to say whether the retirement was initiated by Rhodes or the university. The retirement comes just as Rhodes was about to celebrate 30 years of teaching at Richmond.
“Everything’s fine,” Rhodes said. “It’s really frustrating because I was so sick all semester that I felt so bad that the students were being cheated.” Rhodes said that earlier in the semester he was having health issues.
Emily Schott, WC ‘20, said Rhodes often canceled the first-year seminar or cut class short because of his poor health.
“I was just kind of listless and kind of stupid, and I wasn’t giving them a good class at all,” Rhodes said. Some of the health complications were brain-related, and Rhodes said he had a “mini stroke” at one point.
But over spring break, Rhodes’s health improved and he said he is feeling a lot better now.
“Everything was going great, so I’m a little disappointed in some ways that I’m not finishing it out,” Rhodes said. “But on the other hand I’m really happy to be retired.”
Cheryl Pallant, an adjunct instructor from the theatre and dance department, will now be teaching one section of Rhodes’s first-year seminar, and Terry Dolson, the manager of community-based learning in the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement will be instructing the other section.
“All I was told was that it’s a medical emergency, and I got no details beyond that,” Pallant said over the phone regarding her new role. This is the first first-year seminar Pallant is teaching.
Dolson did not reply to The Collegian's request for comment.
Some students in Rhodes’s classes received an email Wednesday morning from Patrice Rankine, the dean of the school of arts and sciences, informing them of Rhodes’s early retirement.
“I’m writing to affirm that Professor Mark Rhodes will be retiring early and will not return to the campus,” Rankine wrote in the email. “My associate dean, Libby Gruner, will visit your classes this week, and I will also visit during the coming weeks to make sure that you are doing well as we conclude the Spring term.”
When the second section of first-year students showed up for their Thursday class, Rhodes was absent and the class was questioned by the chair of the art department, Jeremy Drummond.
Schott said Drummond said he was was curious about whether Rhodes had been showing up for class and how well the students were doing. When the students told Drummond they had not received any grades for the semester and that Rhodes had been absent multiple times without notice, Drummond seemed shocked, Schott said.
Drummond has yet to reply to The Collegian’s request for comment regarding Rhodes’s retirement.
Dani Sanchez, WC ‘17, had Rhodes as her academic advisor for two years and took the “Contemplative Traditions in Art” first-year seminar with Rhodes her first semester at Richmond.
“I thought he was super nice, super eccentric,” Sanchez said. She remembers enjoying the class and his methods of teaching.
Rhodes plans on building a new art studio this summer and working full-time on his sculpting.
“I’m gonna start my career as a sculptor now that my education is finally over,” Rhodes said. “It’s just all fun from here on out.”
Contact reporter Katie Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org.