A professor at Indiana University Northwest ( IUN ), in Gary, Ind., this week filed a complaint with the U.S. Dept. of Education, alleging that she was denied tenure both because of her gender and because she is a lesbian.
Anne Balay, assistant professor in IUN's English department, filed the complaint by email Dec. 1. She has also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Council, alleging discrimination on the basis of gender.
LGBT residents of Indiana are not protected on the basis of their sexual orientation under state anti-discrimination laws. But entities accepting money from the U.S. Dept. of Education, as does IUN, are prohibited from discriminating on that basis.
Balay found out in April that her tenure had been denied. After filing a complaint with the university's Affirmative Action office, she asked for a hearing with the Faculty Board of Review, which is scheduled to convene on the matter Dec. 4. The Board will have 30 days to make a recommendation to the university president.
As at most universities, tenure decisions in Balay's department are based on research output, university service and teaching evaluations. "At any campus there's a written set of rules that you follow, but there's also a big subjective piece anywhere you go," Balay said.
It was the teaching component of Balay's review that got her into trouble, she said, adding that she was informed of a "pattern" of student complaints against her.
About one to four percent of the students she works with are "angry and hostile because I'm a lesbian and a feministand also because I don't pass people who aren't passing," Balay said. "When you're in a targeted minority and people are angry, that's where they go, so students will say 'all she does is talk about sexuality.' That's not true. I talk about sexuality as much as anybody else."
Balay added, "If you've never had an out professor before, and a professor says that they're a lesbian, you hear nothing else all semester. Those are the only words that you retain."
Balay was recommended for tenure by colleagues from the English department, but they were overruled by their chairperson. Then she was recommended by a faculty committee from the College of Arts and Sciences, who were also overruled, this time by the dean.
"So there's been a pattern of faculty saying that my work is fine, and administration citing me," Balay said. "In my case, administration ( officials ) are the people who hear the complaints. When students are mad at me, and hostile, they go to my chair and say, 'She talks about sexuality and insults Christians.'
"Neither the students nor the chair think they're biased against gay peoplethey think you're supposed to be fair to everybodybut when they freak out, that's who they attack. The chair doesn't think ( what I'm saying ) is hate speech, he just thinks I should do fewer things that irritate my students," she added.
Overall, the IUN campus is not welcoming for its LGBT students and faculty, according to Balay. She has served for five years as faculty advisor to its Gay Straight Alliance, for example, and, now that she's scheduled to leave campus, the university has had a difficult time finding her replacement, since she is the last openly gay faculty member on the campus.
The last five queer faculty members to come up for tenure were not retainedfour were denied their tenure, and another simply left before she went through the entire process, Balay said.
"Students say they don't feel comfortable talking in class about being gay or ( addressing ) gay issues," she added. "There are trans students who come to me and say that there are faculty that call on them every day when they raise their hand and laugh. There's a sort of hostility on campus to gay and queer students."
Balay will think through her legal options once the Board of Review decision comes down. She studied queer steelworkers and their treatment for her most recent book, and said that their battles inspired her to go forward against the original decision.
"Universities should be safe places for queer people, and safe places for everybody," Balay said. "That's what they're supposed to be like."
Balay has legal representation from Christopher Cooper of Chicago and Roy Dominguez of Merrillville, Ind.
Emily Banas, a spokesperson for IUN, said that the university could not offer any comment but would address the Dept. of Education complaint "at the appropriate time."
Balay has completed a book, Steel Closets, which explores how sexuality and gender overlap in the steel mills of Northwest Indiana. She is speaking about the book April 5 at Lavender University, hosted by Windy City Times and Center on Halsted. The program described the project this way: "Drawing from extensive, detailed oral histories taken of a previously silent and invisible population, it investigates how gay, lesbian, and transgender steelworkers interact with their co-workers, communities and families in the context of their physically demanding, risky work. It explains how and why basic steel mills are inhospitable, even dangerous to queers, and demonstrate that we can't understand what it means to be GLBT without including working-class, blue-collar voices and stories."