Saturday, February 15, 2014

I'll Fight

There are many unfair aspects to Anne Balay’s having been denied promotion and tenure, but a major one is Bloomington administrators’ failure to allow the decision to be made by Chancellor William Lowe, the top administrator on her home campus, IU Northwest.  After she received unanimous support from her English Department Promotion and Tenure committee and unanimous support from her Arts and Sciences divisional committee, Vice Chancellor David Malik recommended her for promotion and tenure.  In spite of this, President Michael McRobbie turned her down, giving more credence evidently to very dubious arguments put forward by her chair and dean about her alleged teaching inadequacies.  In a stinging rebuke to those arguments, the IU Northwest Faculty Board of Review found that Anne was a transformational teacher and winner of several teaching awards who had been given virtually no warning that her tenure case was in jeopardy.  In its report the Faculty Board of Review members expressed deep regret that the university will lose one of its most promising scholars and a transformational teacher who sets and enforces high standards.  The committee concluded that the failures of the University in the process were many.  She was provided with inadequate warnings on both the complaints and the DWF (withdrawal) rates.  She was not informed in writing or even at all of the problems in the classroom.  There was virtually no follow-up to the warnings that were provided.  Finally, the university made too little effort to apply the resources of IU Northwest to improving her teaching.

In cases much less egregious than this one, where administrators did not follow proper procedures, it has been common to allow faculty members a year or two to show significant improvement, something Anne requested.  The Faculty Board of Review report states that members seriously considered granting this request but that her Chair and Dean opposed the idea and Anne admitted that she couldn't teach effectively if her Chair and Dean stood on the sidelines, hoping she’ll make an error which they can use against her.  The report then sadly concurred that this was a good description of the attitude of the leadership of the English Department toward her.  So the committee suggested that she be compensated rather that given an opportunity to be mentored by those willing to help her.

There are other scenarios that I wish President McRobbie consider.  First, if her chair refuses to mentor her, replace him with someone who will or ask him to delegate the responsibility to someone else, perhaps former Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Mary Russell, who was on the English Department P and T committee and whose field, Children’s Literature, is the same as Anne’s.  Second, since Vice Chancellor Malik offered to mentor her, transfer Anne to the Gender Studies program, where her present research interests lie.   Malik could perhaps ask his associate vice chancellor Cynthia O’Dell, formerly a member of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, to assist him in the mentoring.  Thirdly, I believe fairness demands that the final decision whether or not to retain Anne be made be IU Northwest Chancellor Lowe, who has had the opportunity at close hand to evaluate and appreciate Anne’s contributions to the university in the areas of research, teaching, and service – as well as familiarity with the personalities involved in the case -  rather than the final decision be made by distant administrators.
 F.C. Richardson
above, Nicolas Kanellos; below, Robin Hass Birky

If Anne’s chief failing was that she was too outspoken as an open lesbian feminist, isn’t there, in the name of diversity, room for at least one such scholar on a campus?  A half-century ago, critics thought F.C. Richardson too pushy for supporting student demands for a Black Studies program.  Richardson went on to become a chancellor in the IU system.  A decade later, critics wanted Nicolas Kanellos denied tenure because he supported student demands for a Latino Studies program.  Kanellos is at present Brown Foundation Professor of Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston.  Robin Hass Birky received much criticism for supporting a Women’s and Gender Studies program.  Now, after her tragic death, there is a room on campus named after her.  As a historian I have little doubt that in the future Anne Balay’s activities on behalf of LGBTs at IU Northwest will be similarly recognized.  I believe Chancellor Lowe already recognizes her worth.  If she is abrasive at times and maybe has room for improvement in the classroom, these are minor flaws compared to the many, many students she’s mentored and helped develop intellectually.  How great it could be if the university that I love so much celebrated the impending publication of her path breaking book “Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers” rather than show her the door and betray the principles of academic freedom and diversity that IU claims as its heritage.

No comments:

Post a Comment