It all started way back in 2008, when a self-described “middle-aged, overweight white guy with graying facial hair” wrote an op-ed that played fast and loose with the truth about health care benefits at the University of Toledo.
Michael Miller, editor-in-chief of the Toledo Free Press, fresh from a town hall meeting sponsored by Equality Ohio and Equality Toledo, was righteously indignant over what he heard from its participants:
The frequent denial of health care benefits leads to horror stories. According to the panelists, UT has offered domestic partner benefits since then-president Dan Johnson signed them into effect. The Medical University of Ohio did not offer those benefits. When the institutions merged, UT employees retained the domestic-partner benefits, but MUO employees were not offered them. So, people working for the same employer do not have access to the same benefits.
Quelle horreur! Those homophobic academics! How dare they! How dare they combine gigantic organizations with two sets of HR policies, union contracts and insurance plans to be sorted out and fail to put gay rights at the top of their to-do list! Never mind that none of the benefits affecting all employees (including the black and disabled, whose pain Miller tells us he also feels) were initially changed when the two institutions joined forces. UT employees kept their benefits, MUO kept theirs. Policy, procedure, contractual obligations be damned: put those domestic partners at the front of the line!
A few days later, the Free Press publishes a letter in response to Miller’s column from one Crystal Dixon, who identified herself as a “Black woman who happens to be an alumnus of the University of Toledo’s Graduate School, an employee and business owner.” Her letter is a passionate articulation of “God’s divine order” as it relates to gays. How could she possibly know this? Eh. Another sheltered individual afraid of something she knows nothing of, I thought. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about, I thought.
But when she stopped talking theology and began writing about university policy, she most definitely did know her stuff:
The reference to the alleged benefits disparity at the University of Toledo was rather misleading. When the University of Toledo and former Medical University of Ohio merged, both entities had multiple contracts for different benefit plans at substantially different employee cost sharing levels. To suggest that homosexual employees on one campus are being denied benefits avoids the fact that ALL employees across the two campuses, regardless of their sexual orientation, have different benefit plans. The university is working diligently to address this issue in a reasonable and cost-efficient manner, for all employees, not just one segment.
Naturally, a firestorm ensued. Because the editor-in-chief of the Free Press misrepresented the facts about UT employee benefits, you ask? Don’t be silly. Because Ms. Dixon—who wrote her letter to the editor as a private citizen—was at the time the associate vice president of human resources at UT. After she was suspended but before she was fired, the president of the university Lloyd Jacobs also wrote the Free Press:
Although I recognize it is common knowledge that Crystal Dixon is associate vice president for Human Resources at the University of Toledo, her comments do not accord with the values of the University of Toledo. It is necessary, therefore, for me to repudiate much of her writing.
Flash forward to today. Fired from the University, Ms. Dixon today holds a prestigious, high-level position in her field, based, no doubt on her experience and past performance at UT, where, “her work reviews from [her boss] Logie had always been positive and praised her in the area of diversity.”
She is back in the news because she lost her court case for wrongful termination from the university. The always-reliable Scott Jascik of Inside Higher Ed explains:
The University of Toledo was within its rights when it fired its head human resources administrator in 2008 after she wrote a newspaper column in which she said that gay people do not need the protection of civil rights laws, a federal judge ruled this week.
In his ruling, Judge David A. Katz found that the nature of the official’s position meant that she did not have First Amendment protections from being punished for expressing her views in a public forum. The “plaintiff’s interest in making a comment of public concern is clearly outweighed by the university’s interest as her employer in carrying out its own objectives,” Judge Katz wrote.
As a former apologist for a small liberal arts college who did her share of mucking the barn after the door had been left open, the company woman in me is cheering “Right On!” to the judge’s opinion.
But that cheer dies on my lips as I read further on in Judge Katz’s memorandum:
Plaintiff claims that her termination impedes diversity. She claims that accepting Defendants’ employer interest arguments would prevent any conservative Christians from holding managerial positions at the University of Toledo. Plaintiff’s claim is far too broad in two important ways. First, Defendants’ arguments only restrict those who cannot hold their tongues about their beliefs (or fail to submit their beliefs anonymously). Plus, the position would likewise restrict liberal atheists as well.
In other words, says the judge, if you hold an unpopular view, keep your mouth shut or your employer will get you. The bile rising in my throat evidences the bitter vindication of knowing I’d been right all long. If you are a conservative (but not a “liberal atheist”) check your opinions at the door if you want to work in higher ed. Listen to your colleagues spew their views, but keep yours to yourself. It’s kinda like “don’t-ask-don’t-tell,” except that you get told even if you don’t tell.
Judge Katz’s opinion puts the imprimatur of the law on the hypocrisy endemic in higher education. Consider his chilling statement: “Defendants’ arguments only restrict those who cannot hold their tongues about their beliefs (or fail to submit their beliefs anonymously).” Now substitute “sexual preference” for “beliefs.” Appalling, isn’t it.
I’m guessing in the wake of the judge’s ruling, the University will revise its answer to one or more of the questions on its Questions, Answers, and Facts page about “diversity”:
Q: Does having too much diversity weaken an organization?
A: No. While diversity is inevitable, it implies inclusiveness. Having diversity should not ostracize individuals or groups. The rationale for diversity is to provide opportunities where many perspectives and talents can be appreciated and utilized. True diversity is not about hiding differences. It is about capitalizing on them in order to make for a more productive and desirable work environment.
That part about “not hiding differences” is totally outside the parameters of Judge Katz’s sententia about keeping one’s mouth shut.
UPDATE: December 18, 2012. The appeals court has found for the defendant. Ms. Dixon’s loss should resoundingly answer the mealy-mouthed apologists for political correctness who claim that conservatives do not need to keep their opinions to themselves if they wish to work in academia.