In the next several posts, I will be outlining the events that preceded and then led to the decision to think about filing a formal lawsuit. In Texas, an EEOC complaint is required before an individual can pursue a lawsuit. 99% of all EEOC claims result in the EEOC shrugging its shoulders and giving you the rht to sue. It’s a tactic that ensures a long delay to any complaint about legally protected categories of individuals.
I have struggled to get up the courage to finally put all of this out there, in part because it is extremely difficult to relive these years. It is very difficult to read documents about them and see all the ways that things went sideways because of lack of communication and an over-reliance on secondhand accounts of various things on the part of my Chair. It is even more difficult to see Dean Randy Diehl, the other deans, and even UT Legal Affairs supporting some of the most egregious behaviors.
It hit me the other day that the reason I had no memories of the Rio Olympic Games was because I was in a hospital, desperately ill and surrounded by consultants who had no idea what was going on and who offered several very scary options. It was this time 5 years ago that things started to get really bad and I am still in the process of recovering — much better but still a good year or so away from tapering more medications and regaining my stamina and fitness.
I left off the narrative with me finally contacting Dean-Jones to tell her that I would be teaching full-time in Classics in the fall semester, after being completely jerked around by my Deans and, more than likely, the senior Vice Provost I had been working for. One thing that the discovery documents clarified for me about this period, during which I was kept completely in the dark, is that Dean-Jones was involved in whatever happened only to the extent that she was asked to email the Senior VP to express her willingness to have me continue to work for him. As she noted in some comments, she wanted the extra soft money than came with me out of the department. There is no evidence to suggest that she refused to evaluate Online Rome, despite what I was told. The decision not to pay me summer funding was made at a higher level. The “evaluation” did eventually come, but only at the end of July and by a completely unqualified member of the Dean’s office.
Knowing that this was the background, it is a bit easier to make sense of Dean-Jones’ odd reaction to the news of my return. I did not expect a party or even a warm welcome, but I did expect a relatively painless process of finding me two courses to teach. Courses are typically assigned a year in advance and I had been assigned a graduate seminar already. Unfortunately, with no description sought and with me now not well-known to the 1st and 2nd year students, the course only had one student. In general, the grad adviser ensures that the students are distributed to the various seminars but that did not happen this time. Unfortunately, this meant that Dean-Jones needed to find two and not just one class for me to teach.
The conversation immediately got off on the wrong foot when I was told that there were no classes that fit my accommodations. I am sure that this was true since, by late July, the only classes left to be assigned were likely those taught by grad students. In past instances, Chairs have worked to find a way to trade around courses. I have changed my own schedule multiple times at the last minute, to accommodate a Chair’s request. It is not an ideal situation but it is a pretty normal thing. We cannot really finalize staffing until the freshmen have enrolled and we know what our soft money budget is. At no point was there a suggestion of “let me see what I can do” vel sim. No. It was “I have no classes for you.”
In retrospect, I regret that I initiated the contact. I should have let the problem unfold at the hands of others since they created the problem. While it is not illegal to refuse to shuffle an existing schedule, it was not the norm as I experienced it under other chairs. It was particularly galling to have my need for accommodations used against me. The conversation never became an effort in collaborative problem-solving. I was never told what courses were available and given the opportunity to decide to take on one of those courses even if it did not meet my accommodations perfectly (something I would do several times after this, until my health worsened enough that I really could not be flexible). It was a bizarre and unnecessarily hostile conversation over something so banal.
It was particularly concerning to me because of its broader context. I had already had several uncomfortable encounters about medical issues in Spring 2015. First was my decision to take a 50% medical leave. Unknown to anyone was the fact that I wanted and needed to take a 100% leave but worried that I could not do so in the middle of finishing the Online Rome class. As usual, I also underestimated dramatically the workload of that project in Spring 2015. Also during this semester, I had been summoned to a meeting on campus about a new graduate course that I would be teaching in Spring 2016. At the time, I was very unwell. I could work from home on the Online Rome class but could not walk up the stairs in my home without becoming breathless. I did not know it at the time, but I had severe anemia.
When I declined to go to campus for a meeting about something a year away, in large part because there was no way I could have walked from my car to my office, I was chastised. My declination was forwarded to Dean-Jones, who proceeded to tell me that faculty on leave regularly came to campus for meetings, etc. Ok, sure, because they are on research leave. Medical leave is not research leave. Someone is choosing to use their paid sick leave up for an important reason. Why would I have opted to use precious sick leave instead of teaching an easy peasy Latin class unless I had no other options? I was able to work 50% because it was almost entirely from home. I did go to meetings on campus when I could but, at the time of this summons, I simply could not.
Having a Chair scold me like a misbehaving child and then conflate my leave with a research leave at a time when I felt like pool scum was not a good experience. I responded and got another email that seemed not to understand the situation. I wanted to nip things in the bud. Individuals with disabilities regularly look the other way when situations like this come up. I was some mix of exasperated and exhausted at the time, and wanted to nip things in the bud. I asked my “babysitter,” associate dean Esther Raizen, to explain the difference to Dean-Jones. Of course, all I was told was that things were taken care of. I now know that there was a more extended conversation in which Esther clearly presented me as being difficult. At least she did not tell me that I was not being bullied, as was requested. I suspect she knew better than to raise that at the time.
Finally, near the end of the semester, Dean-Jones took a position that was intended to support and sustain the life span of the Online Rome class and hired someone who had no training rather than the other department alum that I had trained over the last year. This was done without a word to me, even just to tell me it was what she was doing. Before this, all lecturer hires had been discussed by the department, or at least the faculty most relevant to the hire’s responsibilities. Given that the hire came with the promise to offer at least 6 sections of Online Rome each year, it is difficult to claim that I had no investment in the hire.
When I expressed my outrage in a blog post seen almost entirely by online learning specialists; and then a CHE article, I was (I have since learned) reported to my profession’s major professional organization. This is an absurd move, not least because nobody on that committee had any idea how the department was run, why that position was created, etc. The Dean had decided that a Chair could hire lecturers without any consultation of the faculty and that is what happened, despite the more transparent process that had been in place before this. It is interesting to see the new Dean changing this process, and encouraging that a real search be conducted. For all sorts of reasons, including reasons that protect the lecturer, this new policy is a good one. It will make the process more time consuming but will also ensure greater transparency around a very important decision.
In late summer, of course, I only knew that this hire had been made without so much as a word to me — and certainly not after hearing my arguments for someone who had extensive training in running the online class, making updates, etc. On top of all of this, I was led to believe that Dean-Jones had refused to evaluate the Online Rome class, thus costing me c. $20K in summer salary. Given everything else, it was not a stretch to believe this was true. All of this was lurking in the background as I tried to work out fall course assignments in the late summer. When I met with a refusal to even attempt to shuffle things, using the excuse of my ADA accommodations, I was less than pleased. I was fed up with disability issues being a part of the discussion when, in the past, they had been handled without a word to me.
Ultimately, I was assigned to do the Online Rome class — which had not yet been assigned to anyone, apparently. I do not want to imagine the absolute disaster if anyone but me had been teaching it in Fall 2015. At the same time, I had been clear that I was building it for others to teach. The lecturer position was there to have someone with experience to manage things. I had built it but had not taught it myself. There is a huge difference between these two acts — and it is why building an Online Class isn’t “teaching.” It may not be a traditional form of research but that is exactly what it is. After all, why would UT claim ownership of my IP if it was nothing more than teaching? They had never before claimed ownership of my PPT slides or even recorded lectures.
From the vantage of hindsight, I suspect that Dean-Jones was less than delighted by my return not just because she had to find classes for me but, even worse, because she would no longer be getting a chunk of soft money in my place. I suspect that she was perfectly happy to both have me out of the department and to get something very useful in return. She never asked me why I was returning and, for all I know, thought I had deliberately decided to opt out of the arrangement with the Provost’s office. It did not help that the Dean’s office did not communicate anything to her, from what I can tell. In many ways, the Dean’s office bears the responsibility for this rough reentry to Classics. They knew what was going on and, seemingly, told neither me nor Dean-Jones.
Once I realized I was stuck with Online Rome, I did at least have the foresight to know that there would be hiccups. The two beta tests had brought out lots of problems that had to be solved on the fly. In Fall 2015, yet another instruction model was being used and I suspected it would not be perfectly smooth. At the very least, I knew I would be expending a lot of time helping the two graduate student instructors in running their sections. Neither of them had any experience in online teaching and neither had worked much with Canvas. My assignment was, on paper, two 50 student sections. Had it remained just this, it would have been a challenging but not overwhelming teaching load. Little did I know what I was in for and just how much of my time, energy, and resilience would be eaten up by trying to run the course.
In many ways, it was this course assignment that triggered the cascade of events that resulted in multiple hospitalizations and a long road to recovery. It may have looked like a cake walk on paper — and that is how it is described in documents; it is easy for someone who has never taught a Canvas-based online class to assume it is just pressing buttons. It is easy for them to arrive at conclusions without understanding how a course was actually run in the end and why, specifically, it was so challenging to run.