Kent State President Beverly Warren said there is no threat to student safety on Kent State’s campus after it came out the FBI is investigating Julio Pino, a Kent State associate professor of history, for allegedly having ties to the Islamic State and recruiting students on campus to join the terrorist organization.
“We have the FBI’s assurance that in their current process through their investigation that there’s no threat to our campus and that they would alert us if they felt that there was a heightened sense of threat to public safety here at Kent State, and that is not the case,” she said.
Warren said the FBI contacted her in early January shortly after she returned from the holiday break. She said agents told her they would be coming to campus to talk to students about statements he may have made in some of his classes.
She said the FBI is communicating with the university’s Department of Public Safety.
The university is not considering putting Pino on any sort of leave, and he will continue to teach the two classes he has this semester. Warren emphasized Pino is innocent until proven otherwise.
“Professor Pino is being questioned,” she said. “He is not being charged, and he certainly has not been found guilty of any infraction by our government, and so as we have in years past, we don’t condone Professor Pino’s comments that he makes —that we find as a university reprehensible— but certainly respect his rights as a public employee and as a U.S. citizen. And so at this point, we do not feel that removing Professor Pino is the right course of action.”
Warren said students in Pino’s classes who may not feel comfortable continuing with the semester have the option to change their schedules during the university’s week-long add/drop period, which ends Sunday.
However, she said she is not aware of any students yet doing so.
Warren responded to students’ concerns on Twitter, letting them know the university is fully cooperating with the FBI and there is no threat on campus.
“I think that students have the right to express what they feel,” she said. “I’m trying to be very responsive as you very well know in following me on Twitter and trying as best I can to respond respectfully to students and to honor their concern and to honor their right to their opinion.”
FBI special agent Donna Cambeiro confirmed the unit’s inquiry into professor Pino.
“Right now the only thing that we are going to report is that there is an ongoing investigation,” Cambeiro said.
Kenneth Bindas, professor and history department chair said the faculty was surprised by the allegations.
“There is no danger to students at KSU,” Bindas said. “Professor Pino is a well-respected teacher in the classroom. We are not aware of any difficulties and have not had student complaints about him in the classroom. The student evaluations are always average to good. I think students are safe and comfortable within the classroom."
Kent State Police Department Assistant Chief Bill Buckbee said there is no change in protocol, despite the unrest on campus.
“Kent State’s police department has always worked very closely with the FBI. Not just during this particular investigation, which is, by the way, strictly their investigation,” he said. “We have no reason to believe there is any enhanced safety threat to the university whatsoever. So our security condition has not changed at all.”
Buckbee said at this time authorities don’t anticipate any disruptions to Pino’s class, but that the situation can serve as a reminder that students need to be aware of their surroundings.
“We’re obviously evaluating everything as we get more information and we’re trying to keep our thumb on the pulse to anticipate any possible problems that we might have,” Buckbee said.
Kent State graduate Kayla Morrison penned an open letter published on BuzzFeed in 2014 that picked up thousands of shares and criticized the university for keeping Pino on its faculty. Morrison wrote that the university “fosters a deplorable person within its academic infrastructure and permits him to educate young adults” and stated that the university must cut him loose in order to protect its own integrity.
Now, following the news of Pino’s investigation, Morrison said he was once again placing Kent State under an unnecessary public scrutiny.
“I'm glad he's once again being investigated, though. He needs to be held accountable both morally and legally for his actions,” Morrison said. “Being affiliated with, or even merely sympathetic to, (ISIS) is absolutely unacceptable and a disgrace.”
Warren said one of her primary concerns was for student safety. She said she did not want students to feel threatened by the FBI presence on campus.
“I was assured by them that they would be respectful, that students would have a chance to decline the opportunity to be interviewed, and I was also assured that our public safety department would be involved so that there would at least be a familiar person that students might feel more comfortable.”
Jimmy Miller and Ben Kindel contributed reporting.