Gallaudet University put its chief diversity officer, Angela McCaskill, on paid leave last week for the offense of joining 200,000 other Marylanders in signing a petition supporting a ballot referendum over Maryland’s recently adopted same-sex marriage law.
“I thought it was important that as a citizen of the state of Maryland, I could exercise my right to participate in the political process,” McCaskill explained at a news conference yesterday.
The Washington Blade obtained the petition and posted it, along with its signatories, online. A faculty colleague of McCaskill’s saw her signature and wrote a formal complaint letter to university President T. Alan Hurwitz asking that disciplinary action be taken.
Regrettably, Hurwitz was all too eager to comply. McCaskill was reportedly first asked to apologize for having exercised her right to participate in the political process by signing the petition. When she refused, she was notified by email that she would be put on administrative leave. In a statement announcing his decision, Hurwitz cited concerns from some that McCaskill’s participation in the legislative initiative is “inappropriate for an individual serving as chief diversity officer.”
A letter announcing McCaskill’s suspension was sent to the entire university community, and an interim chief diversity officer was appointed as the school administration weighed McCaskill’s fate.
McCaskill is the first black deaf woman to have received a PhD from the school. She has worked at the school for more than two decades and in the post of chief diversity officer since 2011. Hurwitz admitted that she had a strong reputation as “a longtime devoted advocate of social justice and equity causes.” McCaskill was even credited with helping open a resource center for sexual minorities on Gallaudet’s campus last year.
Opposition to Gallaudet’s unfair treatment of McCaskill and calls for her reinstatement came from across the ideological spectrum. As a result of the outcry, Hurwitz now appears to be backing down, indicating that he believes a resolution is possible that would allow McCaskill to keep her job.
Even so, such instances of intolerance have a chilling effect on those who may hold traditional views on marriage or who simply have different views about who is best equipped to decide such foundational questions. By its actions, the university has sent the implicit message that faculty and students with such views are not welcome or at least must keep those views under wraps at the risk of suffering serious repercussions.
McCaskill’s experience is yet another in a long line of examples of the kind of scorched-earth tactics employed by some advocates of same-sex marriage. The example is especially poignant following on the heels of this summer’s same-sex marriage flap involving Chick-fil-A.
Support for traditional marriage is informed by deeply held beliefs about the public purpose of the institution. In the 32 states where the question has been put directly to the people, Americans have voted for the traditional definition of marriage every time. McCaskill should not be punished with the loss of her job for her belief that questions regarding the nature, civic purpose, and public interest in the institution of marriage are best resolved by citizens through democratic processes.