In 25 years as a student, teacher and librarian, James Anthony Schnur became one of the university’s most respected figures.
As a student, he was a campus leader and author of a much-admired master’s thesis. As a teacher and librarian, he helped countless students and faculty on research projects. And as a champion of the university, he was honored with top awards from the administration and its alumni.
So his April 12 arrest on charges of possessing child pornography and bestiality images left the campus reeling in shock and sadness.
Typical was the reaction of Dr. Raymond Arsenault, who as a professor of history and politics mentored Schnur as a student and steered many students his way for help in their research.
“I think the world of Jim,” said Arsenault, who has taught at USFSP since 1980. “He was one of the best students I’ve ever had and an amazing resource for the community.
“I know many, many people who treasured him and have been devastated by the news,” said Arsenault. “I’ve known him for about 25 years, and in that time I’ve developed a great respect and admiration for him. This news has made me sick at heart.”
Woodward “Woody” Hanson, who recently earned a master’s at the university, said Schnur provided valuable information during his studies.
“He was always a consistent professional. He seemed to me to be a man of high moral and ethical standards,” said Hanson, the founder of a real estate appraisal, consulting and brokerage firm in Fort Myers. “I know these charges hold a negative connotation, but I hope the community gives him his constitutional right. He should be considered innocent until proven guilty.”
Schnur, 51, was arrested at his home in Seminole after the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said it discovered images of child pornography and bestiality on his computer.
He was charged with 10 counts of possession of child pornography and two counts of prohibition of certain acts in connection with obscene materials.
His bail was set at $1 million. Late Sunday he remained in custody at the Pinellas County Jail.
One of his attorneys, Maribeth Wetzel of St. Petersburg, said Sunday that she could not provide comment. She said that they have decided to reserve on bail, instead waiting until her team better understood the case before pursuing a bail hearing.
Shortly after Schnur’s arrest, the university released the following statement:
“USF St. Petersburg is aware of the reported incident involving James Schnur, but cannot comment as this matter is under investigation. Mr. Schnur has been employed at the university since 2000 and currently serves as Head of Special Collections and University Archives. He is on leave pending the university’s review of the matter.”
Schnur is a native and lifelong resident of Pinellas County and graduated from Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport in 1983. He earned a bachelor’s in history from USF in 1988 and master’s degrees in history in 1995 and library science in 1996.
Dr. Gary Mormino, now professor emeritus of history and scholar in residence at the Florida Humanities Council on campus, is a longtime mentor and friend to Schnur.
“I am deeply saddened by the news of Jim Schnur’s arrest,” Mormino said in an email to The Crow’s Nest. “I have known Jim since he was an undergraduate, and admire his work and work ethic. I hope and pray that the news is not true.”
Mormino was on the board that reviewed Schnur’s work for his master’s in history.
Schnur’s master’s thesis was on the Johns Committee, a controversial investigative body of the Florida Legislature between 1956 and 1965.
The secretive committee was originally established to try to discredit the civil rights movement. When those efforts faltered, the committee launched a crusade to expose what it called the “homosexual menace” in Florida’s educational institutions.
Among the committee’s targets were faculty and administrators at the newly created University of South Florida in Tampa. The committee’s “star chamber” investigation of “student habits, teaching practices and curricular materials” left permanent scars on the new university, Schnur concluded in his research.
Schnur has been a stalwart at the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library since 2002. As special collections librarian, he manages rare books, manuscripts, oral histories, primary source collections and a trove of files on USFSP and its history.
He has taught courses at the university and at Eckerd College and written several books on the history of Pinellas County and its communities.
In 2014, he was honored with the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Service, and in 2005, he was given the first Lester Tuttle Award from the USF Pinellas County alumni chapter.
In recent months, Schnur had been working on projects with the university’s journalism department and the city’s Midtown neighborhood. He was creating a digital archive of The Weekly Challenger, which has served St. Petersburg’s black community since 1967.
Dr. Bernardo Motta teaches Neighborhood News Bureau, a journalism class dedicated to community journalism. Motta invited Schnur to speak to his class at the beginning of the semester and steered students to him for help on their class projects.
“Jim was very generous with his time,” Motta said. “I have some students working on a project about food in Midtown. Jim was the first person they spoke with. He came to the class to discuss his research and was a source for a lot of students.”
Motta and Schnur were also working on a project celebrating over 150 years of black history in St. Petersburg. Motta said Schnur was central to the project, but he thinks it can continue despite Schnur’s absence.
The news of Schnur’s arrest came as a big surprise, Motta said.
“I think this is a tragedy. This is going to be a tough situation for a lot of people on campus,” Motta said.
J.M. “Sudsy” Tschiderer, who has been a student and staff member at the university since 1969, said she has worked with Schnur since he was a student leader in the 1980s.
She said she hopes that the charges against him are not true.
“Jim has dedicated his life to scholarship and student success,” she said. “Our community’s pain is monumental at this turn of events.”