Engineering profs cite gender discrimination
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 03:05
Annette Shine was recovering from a broken rib when she received an email in mid-December from the dean of the College of Engineering, Babatunde Ogunnaike, requesting she vacate her office in Colburn Laboratory by Jan. 15. Shine, an associate professor of chemical engineering, was told her office was needed for “serious and immediate space needs,” and she would be relocated to another on the fourth floor of Smith Hall.
Worried she might further injure her rib, Shine got a doctor’s note recommending she wait three weeks until moving. But her request was refused, and she re-injured her rib while packing up her office.
Shine later discovered that she had been relocated so that a male engineering professor could move his second office space into hers.
Shine said this was the last in a series of episodes of gender discrimination she experienced after 23 years at the university. She called it the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“I like to put it, I’ve had six years of neglect and 17 of abuse,” Shine said. “At some point, I realized my only option is tolerate or to leave, and I opted to leave.”
Shine is one of several former female faculty members who feel mistreated or discriminated against by officials in the college of engineering. In more than a dozen interviews with current and former engineering faculty, both men and women, a divided view of women’s treatment in the college emerges.
Though some former women professors feel gender discrimination has historically been a part of the college’s atmosphere among faculty, current professors and administrators deny that the college has practiced systematic gender discrimination. A few professors believe Shine’s grievances stem from personality clashes between her and her colleagues, rather than gender discrimination.
College officials defend their record with women by outlining initiatives such as the ADVANCE program, implemented in 2009, which is geared toward increasing the number of women in the college and improving the work environment for female faculty.
“There is no way that this college can be accused of gender discrimination,” Ogunnaike said.
Currently, 17 percent of engineering faculty members are women, or 23 out of 134 total professors. Since 2006, at least seven women left the college, according to data Shine provided.
Despite their differences, former and current professors agree that women are heavily underrepresented in engineering programs across the country.
Since signing a retirement agreement in 2010, stating that she would leave the university in two years, Shine said she had assumed the “abuse” would stop. Instead it accelerated.
On May 7, 2010, not long after she approved her retirement contract, Shine attended a departmental meeting. At the meeting, Shine told department members that faculty leadership positions, such as associate chair, should be better advertised to the faculty well in advance of any application deadline. Another faculty member also proposed that the position of associate chair be an elected position in the department rather than an appointed one, Shine said.
If Norman Wagner, chemical engineering department chair, advertised faculty leadership positions well in advance, more people could apply. Shine believes Wagner delayed advertising them so he could give little notice, and then appoint whomever he wanted to the position. Shine was told her comments angered Wagner.
“I had three different faculty members come to me, telling me that after the meeting they had personally witnessed [Wagner] shake that I had attended this meeting,” she said. “He was so angry that he was physically shaking.”
Eleven days later, chemical engineering department members received an email from then-college dean Michael Chajes, stating that Shine indicated she would retire, was currently on “administrative leave” and could not attend faculty meetings.
Kristi Kiick, deputy dean of the college, said she thought the email was unusual.
“I actually do remember the email coming around and reading it and going, ‘Huh, I didn’t know Annette was retiring,’” Kiick said.
Wagner said he has no recollection of this meeting and denies feeling any anger toward Shine afterward. Both Chajes and Wagner declined to comment about the email.
“I have no recollection of shaking or anything,” Wagner said. “But I mean, she’s no longer on our faculty. She’s on administrative leave and was on leave at the time.”
According to Shine, her confidential retirement agreement does not mention the term “administrative leave,” and states she did not enter retirement leave until Jan. 1, and will not officially retire from the university until Dec. 31. Until this year, Shine said she has maintained faculty status. Though she did not teach any classes, Shine gave guest lectures, advised undergraduate students and continued working on her research grant from the National Science Foundation, of which she was the sole Principal Investigator (PI).
According to the university’s Research Office’s website, PI eligibility requires full-time employment at the university.
“If I were indeed on some sort of ‘administrative leave’ that precluded me from having any duties in the department, then I could not be a PI on a research grant,” Shine said. “My department chair or dean would have to be named PI.”
Ogunnaike admits there may be some ambiguity to the term “administrative leave,” and that the department is in the process of examining all the policies in the departmental bylaws.
“The reason why we’re going over them is we want to make sure if there is any ambiguity, we take it out,” Ogunnaike said.