Sunday, April 24, 2011

From Bathrooms To Board Rooms: Is Being Transgender A Promotion Problem?

Faculty at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, a public university in Durant, OK, think it has been, and in an act of solidarity are helping a trans colleague grieve her tenure case.

Rachel Tudor, who teaches American and Native American Literature, Modernity and Theory, Humanities, Composition, and Philosophy in the English, Humanities and Languages Department has, according to our informant, "been denied tenure at our university and informed that her employment will be terminated effective May 31, 2011."  Tudor is said to have had overwhelming support from faculty colleagues at every stage of the process because of her outstanding record as a scholar, teacher and colleague.  The tenure case has been turned back by the dean and the Vice President for academic affairs.  To support the appeal sign the petition here.

Professor Tudor's supporters say that they

have compelling evidence that this denial and dismissal are due to discrimination against her for being transgender. In a mess that has gone on for nearly two years, the administration at our university has repeatedly and egregiously violated established policies and procedures. The Faculty Appeals Committee has found in favor of Rachel twice, and the Faculty Senate has passed a resolution in support of her. Meanwhile, the VP for Academic Affairs and the President arbitrarily re-wrote the Academic Policies and Procedures manual in the midst of the process, in order to allow the VP for Business Affairs (!) to overrule the decision of the Faculty Appeals Committee. 

A press release sent by Tudor's supporters tells the following story, with assertions of trans discrimination highlighted in blue:

After transitioning, Dr. Tudor was instructed by SOSU’s human resource department to only use a single-stall handicap bathroom on a different floor than where her office is located. She presumes the direction came from Dr. Douglas McMillan, the vice president of academic affairs, who reportedly had also inquired whether Dr. Tudor could be terminated because her lifestyle “offends his Baptist beliefs.” Human resources denied his request to terminate her but did direct Dr. Tudor to use the separate bathroom facility.

Assistant professors at SOSU are given seven years in which to obtain tenure, with the initial probationary period ending after five years. It is not uncommon at SOSU for applicants to pursue more than one application before being granted tenure. Dr. Tudor knows of two examples of active professors at SOSU who pursued multiple applications before obtaining tenure including the current chair of the Faculty Senate’s Personnel Policy Committee.

Applications for tenure are considered and voted on by a faculty committee. When Dr. Tudor applied for tenure in 2009 she was recommended by the Tenure Review Committee by a vote of 4-1, subsequently her department chair also recommended her for tenure and promotion. However, the dean and the vice president of academic affairs disregarded the committee’s recommendation and denied tenure, but refused to provide any explanation for the denial. The dean regularly refers to Dr. Tudor by the incorrect pronoun (i.e. “him”) although the dean is well aware that Dr. Tudor is female. Dr. Tudor filed an appeal with the Faculty Appellate Committee claiming that the dean’s and Dr. McMillan’s office did not provide her due process in explaining why tenure was denied. The Faculty Appellate Committee found in favor of Dr. Tudor, and directed the administration to provide Dr. Tudor with the reason(s) for its denial of tenure. SOSU’s administration determined that the appellate committee’s ruling was merely a recommendation and was not required to comply.

Dr. Tudor planned to re-apply for tenure in the 2010. However, before the application period began she received a memo from Dr. Doug McMillan stating that she would not be permitted to apply for tenure, alleging that Dr. Tudor’s application would “inflame the relationship between the administration and the faculty.” However, the timing of the memo immediately after SOSU was informed that Dr. Tudor had filed a discrimination complaint with the US Dept of Education suggests retaliation was the true cause of the administration’s action. Dr. Tudor is not aware of any other case in which an otherwise eligible professor has been forbidden to reapply for tenure. Dr. Tudor filed another grievance with the Faculty Appellate Committee, which again found in her favor. The decision was presented to the president’s designee, Mr. Ross Walkup. The president’s designee did not concur with the Faculty Appellate Committee’s decision, and Dr. Tudor appealed to the president of the university, Dr. Larry Minks. At the time of the filing of Dr. Tudor’s grievance the policy of SOSU provided that the Faculty Appellate Committee’s recommendation be given to the president’s designee who would in turn relay the recommendation directly to the president. However, the president’s designee, Ross Walkup, an employee in the university’s business office, refused to affirm the recommendation of the Faculty Appellate Committee. The administration amended the grievance policies to permit the president’s designee to issue his own separate recommendation to the president. Meanwhile, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution, without a single opposing vote, calling on the president to allow Dr. Tudor to apply for tenure. Eventually, the president issued a letter to Dr. Tudor denying her appeal citing, inter alia, a supposed lack of precedence for professors reapplying for tenure after denial (a fact readily regarded as untrue).

Dr. Tudor has exhausted her remedies at the university level. There is no other appellate process or avenue to pursue her grievance. Complaints are pending with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission.

Tudor's own account of her path to termination can be found here.   She is currently appealing her case to the State Board of Regents

While no outsider can speak with authority on a tenure process occurring elsewhere, such dissonance between faculty support for a colleague and administrative disdain for that same colleague is pretty compelling.  Furthermore, transphobia aside, if this account is accurate, the university has violated its own policies to rid itself of a single professor, which is clearly illegal.  As in many cases, administrators are probably betting on it that she will run out of resources before they do. 

What can you do to help Professor Tudor? Meg Cotter-Lynch, Associate Professor of English asks you to:

1) Write a letter to the Oklahoma State Board of Regents asking them to direct President Minks to respect the decision of the Faculty Appellate Committee and the resolution of the Faculty Senate, renewing Rachel's contract and allowing her tenure case a fair, unbiased hearing. Their contact information is on Rachel's blog, linked above.

2) Spread word about this to interested colleagues and contacts, and ask them to write, as well. We are hopeful that public outcry may influence the Regents to reconsider President Minks' decision.

3) We would be particularly grateful for any contacts in the media and/or legal profession who might be willing to help.

Supporters take note:  Professor Tudor's tenure case is surely not unconnected to other retractions, and standing limitations, of civil rights in Oklahoma.  Is it any accident that Oklahoma is also way out front on eliminating a woman's right choose by banning all abortions after 20 weeks, and making it illegal for private insurers to cover "elective" abortion? That the Oklahoma House just voted to put an affirmative action ban on the 2012 ballot?  That Oklahoma is one of four states to still list homosexuality as a criminal offense?  I think not.  So if you don't think trans issues are your issues, think again.
A final note:  I and a great many of my friends who are trans-identified are very political people, and are very dedicated to social justice issues.  But the vast majority of transpeople have many fewer resources than professional people do, may not have radical commitments and may simply want to live unremarkable lives.  The kinds of humiliations, harassment and prejudice visited on one college professor are reproduced over and over again in places where human rights violations get significantly less attention than they will in any university, no matter how conservative it is.  Trans kids spend whole days in pain because trips to the bathroom at school are so traumatic, and trans people are routinely discriminated against when trying to access housing, employment and the right to govern their own lives.  So the next time you think it is "enough" progress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) without full protections for transpeople, think about this:

The path to Professor Tudor's dismissal began by barring her from the women's bathroom.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thank you for bringing this to light, TR, and for doing a bit of digging to find out the details. I do hope that gets wide attention. I fear that even people who would never count themselves as homophobic are still transphobic, and that few (straight) politicians and activists are brave enough to take up the cause of "those people."

Most of us in the straight community (myself included) are largely ignorant about the issues faced by transmen and -women, but it's up to us to educate ourselves.

Thank you.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

This is absolutely horrible.

Dr. Koshary said...

Tudor ought to have that dean dead to rights. If this pattern of behavior described is accurate, then that guy's going to be a very foolish-looking defendant in a civil suit soon, especially with all of Tudor's rank-and-file collegial support.

Pretty upsetting that it came to this point, though. And no one higher up ever put the brakes on McMillan? What gives?

Anonymous said...

To add to the list of 'things you can do'

Tenured Radical said...

The petition is also hyperlinked at the top of the post for your convenience.

Emily Shorette said...

Tenured Radical:

I would appreciate it if you read my blog, The blog is a virtual compendium of articles from newspapers, newsweeklies, and magazines, both popular and scholarly. The articles have a viewpoint toward transgender / transsexual news. If you like it, please put
"Emily's virtual rocket "under the title commonly called
"Blogroll". Thank you so much!



Anonymous said...

I'd say that the vice president for academic affairs and the president need to both be fired, and blackballed from further employment, due to their blatant prejudice and actions.

Jennifer said...

Thanks, Tenured Radical, for posting this and getting the word out.

Kat said...

"the VP for Academic Affairs and the President arbitrarily re-wrote the Academic Policies and Procedures manual in the midst of the process, in order to allow the VP for Business Affairs (!) to overrule the decision of the Faculty Appeals Committee."

Perhaps the high-powered, allegedly-LGBT-inclusive law firm that just decided to withdraw from defending DOMA will - as a show of good faith - volunteer to represent this faculty member.

If the above quote is accurate, then her inevitible civil suit should be a slam dunk - not on anti-T grounds (I can't see the 10th Circuit's Dubya-appointed 'judges' siding with her on that), but, given that the employer in question is a government entity, due process grounds.

christine said...

They will probably just pull some texas-style littleton tactics and deny that the professor in question is in fact a human being and therefor ineligible to apply in the first place.

AcadeMama said...

As an Okie, I can't say that I'm surprised by the Dean's actions, but I am so very impressed and thankful for their support of Tudor. The issues you mention are only the tip of the iceberg. What I hear at family reunions and in grocery store aisles on my visits back are disgusting, hate-filled ramblings of ignorance and fear. I honestly don't know how I grew up there all my life and still turned out to be the person I am today (though I'm guessing it has something to do with that queer theory class I took as an MA student.)

Thank you for this post and for providing a link for others to take action!

The Equality Network (Oklahoma) said...

The State Regents have no jurisdiction over this matter. SOSU is actually governed by the Regional University System of Oklahoma (RUSO). Petitions and advocacy actions should be sent to the attention of Connie Reilly, chair or Jan Gordon, committee chair of the Personnel Committee.

CramerNH said...

This bullshit... not only are the violating their own Staff/Faculty handbook, but also the federal laws that are in place foe EOE!!!

Is this going to be headed to the ACLU? It should be sent to their attention IMMEDIATELY and all those who have denied you access to Tenure, ought to be pushed for their resignations!!!! This is an OUTRAGE!

Heli said...

She could file a complaint about the breach of physical integrity on this international covenant. Mental integrity comes along with it

Heli said...

Karen Nakamura said...

Can AAUP (the American Association of University Professors) play any role here? They are our nominal union representation and usually step into these types of matters.

In any case, this is quite disturbing.


Anonymous said...

Shouldn’t someone get ALL the facts before pointing fingers. This is as crazy as Obama’s birth certificate issue. If you’re open to transgenderness, then you should also be open to looking at BOTH sides (no pun intended) and ALL information.

Paris said...

Thanks for posting this. Last month I finally grabbed the brass ring and landed a tenure-track job at a liberal arts college that isn't just a job, but is a job I'm really excited about. I can see myself there for the rest of my career, but as a transperson, I feel obliged to keep myself 100% marketable every year because neither the college nor the state has a trans-inclusive non-discrimination legislation. Progressive friends have insisted that nobody cares, but this case illustrates that it only takes one person who cares to fuck up one's career.

Vanessa Blaylock said...

There's so much progressive about this new century of ours. It is sad to hear cases of old-century chauvinism still tainting our lives and our world.

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