English graduate student Justin Gifford was fired from his teaching assistant position yesterday, following his arrest and the arrests of 23 students in his detective fiction class Sept. 23 when the group took a field trip to an abandoned building owned by the University Foundation and was charged with trespassing. The charges were dropped Sept. 28.

University officials declined to comment on the details of Gifford's dismissal.

"There are reasons we took the action that we did -- to discuss those wouldn't be fair to Mr. Gifford," English Department Chair Gordon Braden said.

Officials also cited a University policy of not publicly discussing personnel issues. Braden said he made the decision in consultation with Karen Ryan, associate dean for the arts, humanities and social sciences, along with University counsel, other English department administrators and the offices of College Dean Edward L. Ayers and Provost Gene Block.

Gifford, who was notified by Braden of his dismissal yesterday afternoon, said his understanding from discussions with administrators was that the decision to fire him rested both on the initial incident and his subsequent communication with students.

He said one of his students passed on to his or her parents an e-mail that Gifford had intended to be comforting but that the parents and some administrators seemed to read as "joking, jocular."

Gifford provided the two-page e-mail to The Cavalier Daily. The letter, written casually and in lower-case letters, included comments like, "so far, they [the University Foundation] have refused to drop the charges, which is pissing off everyone at uva, because who in the hell ever heard of a university prosecuting its own students for trespassing?" and was signed "justin 'corrupting the youth' gifford."

Gifford also assured his students in the e-mail that he was doing everything he could to keep the charges off their permanent records, saying, "i care about you all a great deal." He added, "we cannot change what happened, but we can change what it means to us. if this class is about anything, it is about a confrontation with the law and ghosts and feelings of dread and horror…we can organize these feelings into stories that are funny and tragic and scary, that make sense of it in a way that it makes it exclusively ours."

"Those kids were upset," Gifford said yesterday. "I was trying to express to them, 'Hey, this isn't something you should feel bad about. This was a mistake, but you're not criminals and you shouldn't let anyone tell you otherwise.'"


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