Academic Freedom Still Moribund on the Gallaudet Campus; “Teachable Moments” on Life Support


It is a very sad day when faculty members are so blinded by their own biases and university presidents are so cowed by the power of the faculty that they all forget why they are campus in the first place.

Instead of embracing the “teachable moment” that arose when it was made known Dr. Angela McCaskill, Gallaudet’s chief diversity officer, had signed a petition seeking seeking to place a question about gay marriage on the ballot in Maryland, faculty threw a tantrum and the president responded by placing Dr. McCaskill on indefinite leave.  In other words, any opportunity Dr. McCaskill might have had to explain why she signed an initiative petition (other than being an eligible voter in the State of Maryland, that is) or to answer questions about her decision was shut down, effectively silencing Dr. McCaskill and banishing her from the campus where she has worked for 23 years and where she earned her doctorate.

What makes the behavior of this faculty-admin tag-team character-assassination squad so appalling is what happened in the days before Dr. McCaskill was exiled.  Take it away, Washington Post:

This summer, McCaskill and her husband…signed the petition….That petition was obtained and made public by the Washington Blade.

A faculty member saw McCaskill’s name on the petition and confronted her in early October, [Dr. McCaskill’s attorney] Gordon said. McCaskill confirmed that she had signed the petition, alerted the Gallaudet president that it could become an issue and offered to organize a panel discussion to address the topic, Gordon said. The next day, the faculty member and her partner filed a formal complaint with the president, he said.

Gordon said that McCaskill was asked to issue an apology and that she declined to do so. Days later, McCaskill was notified by e-mail that she would be placed on paid leave and that an interim chief diversity officer would take over, Gordon said. The action was announced publicly Oct. 10.

When I first read these details in the Post I could not believe my eyes.  On what grounds did the offended faculty member and her partner “file a complaint” against Dr. McCaskill? For signing a legal petition?  What harm has Dr. McCaskill caused this faculty member and her partner?  How long is the reach of Gallaudet’s grievance policy that it stretches across state lines to address a legal activity, undertaken on the employee’s own time, the consquences of which will have zero, nein, nil, zilch effect on the denizens of the Gallaudet campus, located as it is in Washington, D.C. and not the State of Maryland? If someone can explain this to me–please, by all means, have at it.

Unbelievably, it gets worse.  Notice that Dr. McCaskill did what every good subordinate does: she reported to her boss that someone  was unhappy with her, and she offered to organize a discussion of the issues.  In return, she gets an email putting on her leave.  Keep it classy, President Hurwitz.

If this vignette is any indication of life at Gallaudet, my advice is stay away–as far away as you can.  If you are a potential student, please understand that on this campus you will not reliably have opportunities to learn how complicated leaving in a diverse society truly is: there will be no discussions, the right way having already been determined by the faculty and president.  If you are prospective employee, know that the minute a faculty member points a finger of accusation at you, your supervisor will cut you loose faster than you can say, “where’s my due process.”

As a lifelong member of the academy, it pains me most of all that a woman who spent 23 years of her professional life at a single institution should be so quickly, and so punitively,  judged.  In those 23 long years, did colleagues come to no conclusions about what kind of woman Dr. McCaskill is?  Did her actions in all that time not provide a sufficient record of her workplace demeanor and values?

There’s no winning this one, Gallaudet: you’ve already lost.  I wonder if you know how much.

4 thoughts on “Academic Freedom Still Moribund on the Gallaudet Campus; “Teachable Moments” on Life Support

  1. Pingback: The Death of Academic Freedom at Gallaudet University: President T. Alan Hurwitz is an Intolerant Coward « Call Me "Miss"!

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