Chrisley Carpio leads chants while protesters march during an abortion rights rally on June 25, 2022, in Temple Terrace. Carpio's arrest during a campus protest on March 6 could lead to her firing as a USF employee. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Two weeks after being arrested while protesting at the University of South Florida, Chrisley Carpio received a letter indicating the school planned to fire her — a move that a statewide union is calling unfair.

Carpio, 31, has worked for USF since 2016, first in the Office of Financial Aid and most recently in the admissions department.

She was one of four people arrested on March 6, when members of Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society marched to USF President Rhea Law’s office, demanding to meet with her.

The protesters also demanded USF not comply with plans by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature to prohibit spending on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and remove courses in areas like critical race theory and gender studies.

Nat Bender, a spokesperson for the state chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the union believes Carpio should be protected until the university completes its investigation of the incident.

“Somebody’s career and livelihood is hanging in the balance,” he said. “This isn’t an issue that should be politicized, engaging in a free speech-protected activity.”

The university’s police department charged Carpio and the three others with assault or battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting an officer without violence and disrupting an educational institution. Officers alleged that the protesters “became aggressive and initiated physical altercations with police,” and that one officer was pushed to the ground and suffered minor injuries.

Protesters, who captured much of the interaction on video, strongly disputed that characterization and alleged they were abused by officers who hit and shoved them, and placed some in chokeholds.

Law has said she would review the incident, but the university has not given a timeline for that process. The university has not responded to requests to comment for this story.

Carpio was placed on administrative leave the day after the protest. She received a notice from the university last week asking her to meet March 27 to discuss its intent to terminate her. The notice cited the March 6 protest and her arrest.

“It wasn’t related to my work performance,” Carpio said in an interview. “It was related to my politics and being there for the students, which honestly should have been the university’s job.”

Carpio asked to reschedule the meeting so she could bring along a staff union representative, and the university agreed. She said she’s never been written up for performance-related issues during her seven years at USF.

An open letter distributed through some faculty and staff union chapters has circulated calling on the university not to fire Carpio. Also, Students for a Democratic Society organized a call-in to the university, asking to protect Carpio’s job.

Divya Kumar is a higher education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for The Tampa Bay Times in partnership with Open Campus.