Professor Discrimination: When the Professor Experiences Workplace Discrimination

Professor Discrimination: When the Professor Experiences Workplace Discrimination

Historically, the education system staged some of the most uproarious demonstrations of discrimination: first with segregation and then the beginning of integration. Although blatant discrimination happens less often, the education system still shelters a more dangerous discrimination: subtle discrimination.

Not only do students experience discrimination from professors and fellow students, professors are also targeted for discrimination by colleagues, students, and supervisors. Professors face discrimination for a variety of reasons, whether for race, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or pregnancy. Discrimination wears many faces from snide comments to career ruinous actions.

Recognizing discrimination against professors and targeting effective change is the only option for creating a culture of equality in the academic world.

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The Hidden Color Code within Colleges and Universities

It’s no shock that discrimination for color and race continues in almost every industry. The world of academia is not immune to problems of discrimination. As minorities join the ranks of professor, many still see an uphill battle to receiving tenure.

KC Williams writes a telling essay called “Teaching While Black” that shares the difficulty of being a black faculty member. Williams reveals how teaching honestly about race often ends with an offended white student while other staff members undermine a black professor’s leadership by ignoring the misbehavior of students.

Disrespect starts small with students refusing to address a black professor with the correct title, and the problem explodes when racist messages show up in a professor’s office.

Denial and Double Standards for Professor Tenure

A see-saw of standards for tenure dominate the school yard. Minority professors report a noticeable difference in system requirements next to their white counterparts. Moreover, other professors note that race and gender play a role in receiving tenure, but the discrimination becomes illuminated when white counterparts with fewer qualifications and less experience receive tenure.

Lawsuit against the University of D.C. for Discrimination Against Professor

A lawsuit filed by Mawakana, a black professor, expresses the fact that the college uses a system that subjects “African-American professors seeking tenure and/or promotion to higher and more onerous standards than UDC applies to similarly situated white applicants.”

This case and others like it are gaining momentum in the courts. Although most colleges award tenure according to a list of objective and subjective reasons, these cases are challenging colleges to true equity in tenure. (Mawakana v. Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia, 2014)

Lawsuit against University of Michigan for Discrimination and Harassment Against Professors

Two employees of the University of Michigan who are married filed a lawsuit against the school. They believe the reason they were passed by for promotions and raises in last fourteen years is due to being Asian American.

Despite the university’s public commitment to diversity and equity, their statistics of tenured faculty reveals a different truth. The majority remains male and white with almost insignificant numbers representing minorities. (Kurashige and Lawsin v. University of Michigan, 2017)

Professors Face Pregnancy Discrimination

More and more, employees wonder what pregnancy rights are available to them. In fact, no laws create any special rights for pregnancy. Some laws do include pregnancy as something similar to a temporary disability, requiring employers to offer similar accommodations to both groups. In other cases, professors also suffer  pregnancy discrimination for the religious beliefs of the school that they work at.

A professor filed a lawsuit against a small evangelical Christian college because she was fired after becoming pregnant and refusing to marry her boyfriend at the college’s ultimatum. The college reasoned that the professor had chosen to ignore the college’s core values.

The judge wrote, “[A]t its heart, this lawsuit is about what happens when an employment policy based on an employer’s sincerely held religious belief conflicts with an employee’s rights under federal and state discrimination laws.” (Richardson v. Northwest Christian University, 2017)

Religious Discrimination Against Professors

Within our country, common courtesy suggests steering conversation away from religion and politics at the dinner table. At some point, religion became an impolite topic of conversation, and yet, this topic fuels a lot of strife not only in the world but also in academia.

Discrimination against individuals with religious beliefs continue to mount, especially within academia. Students share stories of loss of letter grades because they supported a belief that the professor disagreed with. At the same token, professors receive religious discrimination from their college for their core set of values.

Two Jewish professors at Wheelock College filed federal workplace discrimination complaints against the school because religious discrimination damaged their reputations and careers. When these two professors raised awareness of the lack of Jewish perspective on the campus, the president of the college and other administrators harassed the two professors.

One professor shared that he was continually overlooked when he applied for promotions. Once again, this college commits to equality but seems to fail to follow through. (Dines v. Wheelock College et al, 2016)

Due Process for Public Professions

Another hardship professors might deal with is a surprise decrease in salary. Although many cases ruled allowing for a salary cut to occur before informing the professor, a new decision may have changed forthcoming cases. This decision may establish a constitutional right for due process to take place before pay can be reduced.

In the case of a dedicated, tenured professor at the University of Pittsburgh, he was notified of a salary decrease five days after the cut began. According to the judge, the 5th Amendment requires that all citizens receive “due process” before losing a piece of property. Since Pitt failed to notify professor and allow a fair hearing before the salary cut, the judge ruled that Pitt should have offered “due process.” (KM&A Secures Judgment for University of Pittsburgh Professor)

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Sexual Orientation Bias Causing Professor Discrimination

While stories about professors discriminating against students seem common, the sexual orientation discrimination from students against professors exists as well. A new term surfacing in conjunction with discrimination is the unconscious bias that all humans use in daily interactions. While unconscious bias kept humans alive throughout history, unconscious bias taints the ability of humans to interact with others with zero bias.

Professors often experience subtle discrimination from students. While color and race represent areas that are highly discriminated against, sexual orientation also carries many preconceived notions. A study tried to analyze the unconscious judgments that students made about professors and junior professors.

In general, students regarded white male heterosexual professors to offer objective information while students perceived minority professors to bring political baggage into lectures. Although not blatantly discriminatory, this subtle discrimination frames the situation that minority professors face in the classroom.

“Gender- and sexuality-based preconceptions could have an impact on students’ own educational experiences, as well as experiences of professors who are lesbian and gay. That impact could be magnified when professors teach controversial, politically charged topics, such as human sexuality.” – Inventing a Gay Agenda: Students’ Perception of Lesbian and Gay Professors, The Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

Gender Discrimination Against Professors

Professors also experience gender discrimination from students and other faculty. An anonymous online ranking system called reveals how language encourages discrimination between genders. According to the ratings, male professors are described more often with “genius” and “brilliance” than female professors.

More than three million chime in on this site to assign adjectives to professors. Male professors rank high for knowledge, smart, handsome, charming, and sensitive while female professors receive high rankings for words such as bossy, mean, quick, beautiful. Female professors rarely obtain high rankings for words dealing with intelligence. Although not all words have a gender split, most of them do.

No wonder many female professors believe that discrimination exists at their universities, increasing the difficulty of being hired or promoted. Some respond to the unspoken expectations by choosing not to request leave for pregnancy or use FMLA leave  for a medical issue.

Meanwhile, many of these women fail to file a complaint with their human resources department for sex discrimination. Although huge strides have been made in the last few decades, women are still outnumbered.

The Increase of Conservative Politics Discrimination Against Professors

Being liberal in academia is an acceptable and popular political belief. Universities have even admitted to discriminating against political conservatives in the hiring process. Once hired, conservatives reportedly face more difficulty in reaching tenure or promotion.

Moreover, in 2014, a Higher Education Research Institute report revealed that liberal professors outnumber conservative counterparts by 5 to 1.While diversity in race, gender, and color is highly desired, most schools do not practice diversity in politics or ideology.

Teresa Wagner, a conservative lawyer, filed a lawsuit against the University of Iowa’s Law School because they refused to hire her based on her political beliefs. The school explained that they were concerned that she would bring her beliefs into the classroom. Meanwhile, at the school, out of 50 tenure track faculty, only one was registered a Republican. Although this case ended with a decision in favor of the University of Iowa’s Law School, political belief diversity has begun to grow. (Wagner v. Jones, 2011)

How to Deal with Discrimination as a Professor

Academic discrimination based on a legally protected class is illegal. Therefore, professors who experience certain types of workplace discrimination should consider possible legal options. One easy way to pursue legal options in the face of workplace discrimination is to contact a discrimination lawyer because a lawyer recognizes the validity of your claim.

If you are a professor and have experienced professor discrimination of any type, contact a discrimination attorney now to hear your legal options.

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