Wednesday, October 17, 2012

GUEST POST: Gallaudet Was Justified in Suspending "Diversity & Inclusion" Provost for Signing Anti-Marriage Equality Petition

Today Maryland Juice has a guest post from a reader about the recent controversy surrounding Angela McCaskill, a "provost for diversity and inclusion" at Gallaudet University. The anonymous commentary is published below, but it is preceded by my own thoughts on the situation. WJLA had the following report about the controversy (excerpt below):
WJLA: Gallaudet University's associate provost for diversity and inclusion, Angela McCaskill -- a 23 year employee, and the first deaf, black woman to earn a doctorate at the school -- has been on paid, administrative leave since Wednesday for allegedly signing a petition to put a same sex marriage referendum on Maryland's ballot November.

Some gay marriage advocates, like Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, are calling for McCaskill to be reinstated. "Everyone has a right to their opinion, and everyone has a right to participate in the political process,” he says....  But D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray calls the university's action an "internal matter." “I think it's an issue that's internal to GU and they should decide what is best there,” he says.
THE FREE SPEECH ARGUMENT IS NOT SO CLEAR: McCaskill is now suing Gallaudet and hiding behind free speech principles, while some of the politicians and groups pushing for Maryland marriage equality (aka a "Vote for" Question 6) have been quick to condemn the University's actions. I completely understand the strategy behind why pro-civil rights forces are trying to be "politically correct" about this matter. But since I first heard about this story, I've been very skeptical about the claims that free speech rights are at stake or that they are even at the center of this controversy. To be very clear, I am a huge civil libertarian, but I must point out that McCaskill was not a line-cook at Gallaudet. Her job was to promote a climate of "diversity and inclusion" for young minds, and so it seems to me that there is a strong argument that she voluntarily undermined her ability to carry out her specific job duties.  And the truth is, whether or not McCaskill has indeed crippled her ability to do her job is a matter best decided by the Gallaudet community.

GALLAUDET'S VALUES REVEALED: Likewise, if an anti-abortion organization found out its political director signed a pro-choice petition, I think they too would be justified in reconsidering that employee's future with the organization. But let's take a quick look at Gallaudet anyway. 95% or more of the school's population is comprised of deaf and hard of hearing students. The school's mission statement (approved by their Board of Trustees in 2007) states that Gallaudet "is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education...." But most telling, is that Galludet University also established a "credo" that you should read for insight into the current controversy (excerpt below):
GALLAUDET CREDO: Gallaudet's Vision Statement expresses what the University aspires to become and achieve as the world's premier academic institution for deaf and hard of hearing people. Implicit in our vision are core values that serve as guiding principles for the way members of the campus community teach, study, work and live. The Gallaudet Credo identifies and realizes those core values....

We believe that every person should be treated with civility and that our community is strengthened by the broad diversity of its members. Therefore, we will promote and applaud behaviors that support the dignity of individuals and groups and are respectful of others' opinions. We will especially discourage behaviors and attitudes that disrespect the diversity of individuals and groups for any reason including religion, race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, hearing status, or language and communication preference.

GUEST POST: IS AGREEING WITH ANGELA MCCASKILL'S SUSPENSION "OFF MESSAGE?" - In this instance, one could argue that the Gallaudet community's free association and speech rights are being trampled by people seeking to use this controversy to make political statements. After all, it seems clear that the University has pledged to include LGBT students as welcomed members of their community, and they have even stated so in their core documents. But now, Gallaudet's autonomy as a private employer is being challenged. I can tell you this -- if I were a student at Gallaudet right now, I suspect I would be organizing against Angela McCaskill. Apparently so would some of our readers. Below read another Marylander's take on the Gallaudet controversy that provides a different opinion on the debate:
ANONYMOUS GUEST POST: All the pontificating and handwringing about Gallaudet University's suspension of Dr. Angela McCaskill fails to address the elephant in the room that just doesn't comport with staying on message during a political campaign.

Dr. McCaskill isn't just a garden variety employee making widgets. She is an adult with professional responsibility to advocate and protect students who feel harmed or who have been harmed because of their difference. This isn't really an issue of free speech as is so carelessly asserted. Her signature on the referendum petition affirms her intention to take away legal rights from certain people. The same certain people she is supposed to protect and advocate for on the job.

The problem here is that public sensibility is not yet willing to curtail adults’ "deeply held beliefs" in the interest of protecting children. This is a recurring problem.  Recall that not so long ago conventional wisdom eschewed judgment of parents who smoke in their cars with babies present, or spank their children as a means of discipline, or perform "female circumcision" (mutilation) as a cultural norm. Of course conventional wisdom was wrong in each of those cases -- largely because those in a position to judge are also in a position to perpetrate.

Gallaudet is absolutely correct to consider whether McCaskill's private behavior compromises her ability to do her job. Since she must not only be an advocate & protector, she must be credible as an advocate and protector.

The irony here is that the Catholic Church is yelling from the rooftops that their right to discriminate will be infringed if gays can get married.  Isn't that what Senator Nancy Jacobs was worried about during the hearings in the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee -- that bakers with “deeply held beliefs” won't be able to refuse to sell cupcakes to gay couples celebrating a wedding, or anniversary or their children’s birthday ?

We know for certain that the Archdiocese of Baltimore was well within their legal rights as a private employer when they terminated April Flores, a 25-year veteran teacher at Sacred Heart of Mary School, when they discovered that she married her female partner in Washington DC in 2009. This private conduct was perceived to be incompatible with the Catholic school mission statement – and so she was fired.

None of the advocates for the marriage equality campaign can say this publicly because the goal of the campaign is to win. Telling this truth is not palatable to public sensibilities, and it is off message. Those who would boil the Gallaudet situation down to political correctness gone awry are at best misguided, at worst they are abandoning the children they purport to want to protect by passing a marriage equality law. The bigger issue here is the respect for and care of children.  In fact -- it should be the only issue.

What do you think?

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