Jerry Davich: IUN prof claims discrimination because she’s gay
JERRY DAVICH December 20, 2013 11:00AM
Indiana University Northwest professor Anne Balay | Photo provided
Anne Balay is convinced she is being discriminated against at her workplace, Indiana University Northwest, because she is gay.
The 49-year-old assistant English professor was denied tenure, and a promotion, last spring by the school’s main campus in Bloomington.
In response, she recently filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Council, which is pending and could possibly lead to a lawsuit.
“My claim is that if there had been problems with my teaching, I should have been warned and given assistance and mentoring. I was not,” Balay said. “I had no idea this could happen, and there is nothing in my written record that suggested it.”
It was her teaching that became an issue and she received mixed signals from the school regarding her tenure request and rejection.
Those mixed signals include the support of most IUN administrators, but not the dean and department chair, which raised red flags for downstate IU officials.
Balay admits she has received some negative evaluations from certain students.
“Either those students aren’t doing well, or the students object to the course content, or they say I talk about sexuality way too much,” Balay said.
“My numerical averages, though, are equal to, or better than, educators who are tenured. The university should recognize this as unconscious bias and give me support rather than criticism,” she told me on my Casual Fridays radio show last week. (Listen to the on-air interview in its entirety here: http://lakeshorepublicmedia.org/discussing-gay-rights/)
Balay said she is one of only two IUN educators who are female, gay and out of the closet. This ongoing situation may explain why that number is so low at the school.
I contacted IUN for input and was told that the school has no comment. So we’re left to imagine, explore or hypothesize our own conclusions.
Balay was hired at IUN in 2007 and, customary for five-year professors, submitted her file for tenure review in 2012.
“I chose research as my concentration, meaning I had to be judged excellent in that and adequate in two other categories,” Balay said. “My research is impeccable and no one questioned it.”
Balay is also author of the upcoming book, “Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Steelworkers,” to be released in April. It’s no secret that she is gay, and it hasn’t been a secret since day one at IUN, she said.
This formal complaint reflects a larger issue at hand at IUN and surely at other Northwest Indiana universities: Intolerance of the gay community and discrimination against those who openly come out of the closet.
Yes, even in 2013, the milestone year for gays across this country.
One of Balay’s students, Amanda Board, 23, of Hobart, said this issue has really upset her because she views Balay as one of the best professors at IUN.
“She’s a great teacher whose class makes you think,” said Board, who is gay.
Yes, Balay has talked about sexuality and sexual orientation in her class, but mostly in reference to her textbooks, teaching material and curriculum, Board noted.
“For example, in her English class, if we have 10 books and only two of them have material about gays, some students get all bent out of shape because that’s not what they want to hear, so they blame her for throwing her queer sexuality in their faces.”
“That’s not true,” Board said. “What she’s trying to do is create a little bit of equality.”
What, I asked, if a straight professor offered the same type of queer-minded material to his or her students? Would they, too, receive similar complaints?
“I don’t think so, because they don’t appear to be queer,” Board replied.
On a side note, I’m told the word “queer” is returning to the mainstream vocabulary, if anything because it’s easier than detailing the more politically correct term – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or GBLT.
“It used to be an insult, but now people who use it are proud about it,” explained Balay, who considers herself a butch lesbian.
Balay and Board say the IUN campus is not very welcoming or tolerant of the gay community.
This somewhat surprises me because you’d think a college campus in an urban, progressive area such as Northwest Indiana would be more open minded.
Then again, we’re still in Indiana, a backward state of mostly regressive-minded Hoosiers who appear welcoming — as long as you look, act and believe as they do.
“As a lesbian on campus, it’s very hard to find others like me,” Board said.
IUN student Kait Sowards, 19, of Valparaiso, represents the “T” in the GLBT community. She’s a transgendered man, or in the process to become one, who also has faced discrimination at IUN.
Balay said she has heard from another lesbian student at IUN whose grades have been lowered by a professor simply based on her butch appearance.
“She was getting a B and her professor gave her a C for looking that way,” Balay said. “Her professor told her that she would never be able to get hired for a job.”
Playing devil’s advocate, I can see the professor’s point regarding the realities of the working world. But, Balay countered, “It’s OK to say that to a student, but not where it affects a student’s grade.”
Board has already learned this lesson and recently went to a job interview wearing “girl’s clothes,” she joked.
She and Sowards are members of the student group, Connectionz, a gay-straight alliance that is trying to raise awareness and understanding at IUN. Obviously, it’s needed.
“I believe my case was obvious,” said Balay, who will continue teaching at least through May. “I was as good as, or better than, men who got tenure with no trouble. I hope IUN sees that my denial was unfair and grants me a promotion and tenure.
“If not, I will sue in civil court.”