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

April 24, 2011, 1:58 pm

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 infor
mation 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.

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