did I write a tenure appeal?
Why is the appeal so confrontational?
About the time that the Provost made official his decision to not grant me tenure, one of my colleague -supporters came to my office and encouraged me to sue the University. My first reaction was that I did not want to take such a confrontational action. The court is a zero sum game par excellence, and in most cases it puts both sides on the defensive, so neither side hears anything that the other side has to say. I think that I have a story to tell, and would rather get it out in a less confrontational way.
However, after the discussion with my colleague, I visited the AAUW (American Association of University Women) web site. Their Legal Advocacy Fund supports discrimination lawsuits against Universities and Colleges. Their web page contains information on a number of fascinating lawsuits that they are or have been involved in. I read them and empathized with the women who were struggling in other chilly academic climates. One thing that I noticed was that all of the tenure cases taken on by the Legal Advocacy Fund began with an official appeal of the tenure decision through the University's appeal process. So, I looked up my University's appeal process and discovered that an appeal had to be filed within 14 days of being informed of the tenure decision. I had about two days to file an appeal, if I was going to do so. Not that I had decided to sue, but that I did not want to dismiss the option right away.
After spending a day or two discussing my case with the head of the appeals board, the University Ombudsman, and an attorney, it became apparent that my case could be understood as a matter of academic freedom. At that point, I choose to go ahead and file for an appeal. An official appeal through University channels is a legal process - confrontational as with our government's judicial system - but it can only be based on four criteria: (1) failure to comply with prescribed procedures, (2) application of inappropriate considerations, (3) abuse of discretion, or (4) abuse of the appellant’s academic rights and privileges. As a result, my appeal document was written, with the help of a lawyer, to address those 4 points. Yes, it is confrontational, but that is the nature of the appeals process.
You are probably wondering what happened. Here it is in a nutshell. My appeal was reviewed by the University's attorneys prior to coming before the appeals board. The Attorney's response was "we do not believe that further review of [Dr. Strickler's] record will change the decision to deny tenure and promotion" The University offered a settlement in exchange for a withdrawal of my request for an appeal "in consideration of the expense and time necessarily expended through the appeal process". My lawyer and I discussed the situation and decided that there was a good chance that the appeal would be denied, and the legal basis for a full blown lawsuit was also problematic. The main reason to go ahead with an appeal was to get my story out, but it would not have been heard by many people. And, it was a very expensive proposition. I choose to settle. In the settlement I agreed not to sue the University for any "further recovery of damages".
However, I still think I have a story to tell, and I have not given up my right to free speech. I still believe that University environments - at least some sub-cultures in the University, often provide a chilly climate for women, as do many sub-cultures in our society at large. In presenting my case, I hope that more people will listen to this story and try to understand my perspective outside of the confrontational environment of the courtroom. That may not happen, but if I do not try to make my voice available, it certainly won't be heard.
Copyright © January 18, 2003, Karen Strickler. All rights reserved.