Imagine if an employee at a college or university was suspended from her duties for signing a ballot petition that is for same sex marriage, the media outrage would be predictable and the person would become a household name. And the media would have good reason for doing so: no one should suffer employment consequences for their political convictions. But you probably haven't heard of Dr. Angela McCaskill, because she's on the 'wrong' side of the same-sex marriage debate.
In an incomprehensible move that is being criticized by even advocates for same-sex marriage, Gallaudet University put their Chief Diversity Officer on administrative leave until further notice. Why, you ask? Because McCaskill had the audacity to sign a petition at her church that supported a reversal of Maryland's relatively new same-sex marriage law.
Local media outlets like NBC-owned station WRC-TV have covered the story, but it has yet to go national for some reason. If you don't live in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, you probably haven't heard anything about it yet. So here's the story.
According to the initial report by Planet DeafQueer, an anonymous faculty member spotted McCaskill's name on a petition and felt the need to confront her about it. When McCaskill didn't repent for doing so, the administrator was notified and she was subsequently suspended as a result. Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz said the following in a statement:
I want to inform the community that I have placed Dr. Angela McCaskill on paid administrative leave effective immediately. It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer; however, other individuals feel differently.
While acknowledging that others "feel differently" about her suspension, Hurwitz must have neglected to look up the relevant rule in this circumstance -- otherwise known as the university's Equal Employment Opportunity policy.
Gallaudet University is an equal opportunity employer/educational institution and does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion, age, hearing status, disability, covered veteran status, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, place of business or residence, pregnancy, childbirth, or any other unlawful basis.
University spokeswoman Catherine Murphy confirmed to Buzzfeed that there is no policy against political participation, but she had to remain diplomatic as far as the decision to suspend her anyway was concerned.
For the moment we are sticking with this (Hurwitz) statement. Please understand that in an administrative personnel matter we won't be saying anything more until we get complete clarity on what took place.
McCaskill, who is reportedly well-respected by faculty and students, was the first deaf African-American female to earn a Ph.D. from Gallaudet, a school which specializes in educating the deaf and hearing impaired. She served in various roles at the university for more than 23 years, but there wasn't much thought or careful consideration involved prior to her suspension. It must be a sensitive subject.
Ironically enough however, a campaign to reinstate her was started by Marylanders for Marriage Equality, a group urging voters to once again approve same-sex marriage in the Old Line State. Despite their difference in opinion, campaign manager Josh Levin publicized his thoughts on the matter:
We strongly disagree with the decision to put the chief diversity officer on leave and hope she is reinstated immediately. Everyone is entitled to free speech and to their own opinion about Question 6 (the referendum on the ballot), which is about treating everyone fairly and equally under the law.
Advocates on both sides of the controversy believe Dr. McCaskill was wronged by the university. It's a rare note of agreement in polarized political times, and it's a shame the national media are not holding Gallaudet accountable for what they did.