Exodus of Women Leave FSU Law School; Some Cite Racial Tension
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Five female professors, including one of only three Black faculty members at the law school, resigned earlier this month from the Florida State University — four of them saying they had been harassed almost daily by fellow faculty members. All the professors were from the law school.
“The women of the faculty have been subjected to years of supporting women students who have been harassed by male colleagues with the knowledge of the administration, [which] for one reason or another has turned a blind eye,” wrote April Cherry, the Black professor, in a letter to Interim Dean Donald Weidner.
The letter, in which Cherry said harassment is tolerated on several levels at the school and it filters down to the students, is one of three received by Weidner in a two-week period. Despite the fact that the women haven’t filed a formal complaint against anyone at the school, according to Weidner, he said he is taking the letters very seriously.
“There’s pervasive distrust, sexual harassment, and racial harassment and retaliation,” says Ann McGinley, a tenured professor who is leaving for a position at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Besides Cherry and McGinley, others making accusations and leaving are Sylvia Lazos, an assistant professor; and Jean Sternlight, a tenured associate professor. Lazos and Sternlight both are going to the University of Missouri. Cherry has yet to say where she will be next year.
Another woman, Mary LaFrance, is also leaving the faculty, as is one male professor, Jeffrey Stempel, who is married to McGinley.
The four women didn’t accuse any one person in particular of harassment, but said co-workers have belittled them or others in faculty gatherings and undermined them in front of students. McGinley, who is White, said she was retaliated against for speaking out against racist comments by a law school job candidate. She also said she faced tougher scrutiny than colleagues on her tenure evaluation.
Weidner says he has heard concerns about race and gender issues at the school but the letters are the closest thing he’s received to a formal complaint. He agrees the atmosphere is not collegial at the school.
“People are very harsh in their assessments of other people’s work and they express them,” Weidner says.
Florida State President Sandy D’Alemberte says the letters trouble him, also: “Obviously I have a responsibility to make sure there’s a good working environment for everyone.”
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