Survey Says: Homophobia at KU



KU faculty say homophobia is common on campus.
  • KU faculty say homophobia is common on campus.

A survey released November 16 regarding faculties at Kansas' seven state universities reveals that University of Kansas professors believe homophobia is commonplace on campus. As one KU respondent put it, "Anti-GLBT discrimination is the norm in the unit and school levels quite often."

The Kansas Conference of the American Association of University Professors sent the survey to faculties at Kansas State University, the University of Kansas, Fort Hays State, Emporia State, the KU School of Medicine, Pittsburg State and Wichita State. It asked more than 4,000 faculty members at those schools to rate their institutions report-card style - from A to F - on 39 statements across a variety of topics of university governance. The results show that KU's employees believe the university does a poor job of including faculty in university governance. More glaring than that were KU's terrible marks for fostering inclusion of GLBT faculty members.

"University [is] OK," a KU respondent wrote. "[The] school is fundamentally homophobic."

"GLBT - beware of parts of KU," added another.

Allegations of institutional homophobia aren't new at KU. A Pitch feature story in April ("Denied," April 12, 2012) profiled Albert Romkes, a KU assistant professor of mechanical engineering who is gay and was denied tenure under questionable circumstances. Romkes was told that the denial was due to his failure to line up enough grants. However, Romkes had secured a major federal grant. The university had also cited new rules - rules that had never been applied to another faculty member - to deny him tenure.

Several professors and dozens of students argued that the real reason Romkes - who had won teaching awards and was highly regarded by peers - was let go was because of his sexuality. The university denied the charges.
In October, the Kansas Conference of AAUP sent the survey to faculty members. About 8.25 percent of faculty members responded. The survey asked faculty to grade the university on several topics including how influential the faculty is on budget matters, how part-time employees are treated and how well minority educators are included.

University grades for the statement The campus community discourages discrimination, fosters participation, inclusion and leadership by GLBT members.
  • University grades for the statement "The campus community discourages discrimination, fosters participation, inclusion and leadership by GLBT members."
The survey also asked respondents to grade their institution on the following statement: "The campus community discourages discrimination and fosters participation, inclusion and leadership by GLBT faculty members."

Faculty at KU rated the school a low C-minus. Of the Sunflower State's other universities, only Pittsburg State received a C-minus grade. The average grade for the state's other seven institutions was a C.

An almost identical survey statement replaced "campus community" with "school or college." KU again ranked lowest with a C-minus. Fort Hays' faculty graded the school a slightly higher C-minus. The average score was a C-plus.

Jill Jess, director of KU News Service, defended the university's governance and inclusivity in a statement.

"The University of Kansas has a long, productive history of shared governance, and we continue to believe in its importance to the future of the institution," Jess said. "We're disappointed that some of the faculty who responded to this survey have concerns and will continue to work to ensure all feel welcome at the university."

Aerospace engineering professor Ron Barrett - Gonzalez, who has been a vocal critic of KU's handling of Romkes, says his colleague likely influenced KU's low marks.

"It's clear that Albert's case is on people's minds" he says. "And had this survey been put out a year or two prior, I suspect that the numbers would be different."

Romkes says he's pleased that his fight with KU administrators stuck with the faculty.

"I'm glad that this is out," Romkes says. "The most important purpose it serves is it's a warning for people in LGBT communities when they consider faculty positions at KU. I'm not saying they shouldn't come, but be aware of what people at KU honestly think of LGBT issues on campus."

KU economics professor Mohamed El-Hodiri, president of the KU chapter of the Kansas Conference of the AAUP, says the survey's results shouldn't surprise anyone.

"Homophobia is alive and well at the University of Kansas," says El-Hodiri, who has taught at KU since 1968.
El-Hodiri says KU officials, specifically Richard Lariviere and Jeffrey S. Vitter, former and current provosts respectively, treat "the university like a junior high school," with little collegiality between faculty and administrators.

"The university has been drifting for a long time," he says.

The survey's results could spur changes at the university, El-Hodiri says, but it isn't likely to affect rank-and-file faculty members concerned about keeping their jobs.

"It's not going to change the minds of my spineless colleagues because they made up their minds; they're not going to rock the boat," El-Hodiri says. "Maybe their bosses will realize that you can't get away with that [homophobia] anymore."

Both professors argue that the survey could severely hurt the university's reputation. The AAUP could censure KU, Barrett-Gonzalez says. The AAUP censures universities when "conditions for academic freedom and tenure are unsatisfactory." It's largely a symbolic move, but censure could possibly lead to the school being dropped by the prestigious Association of American Universities.

"Being on the AAUP sanction list or censure list is pretty much a guarantee that you're going to get kicked out of the AAU," Barrett-Gonzalez says. "So it's especially troublesome to the administration."
Last year, the AAU expelled the University of Nebraska for failing to keep up with the robust research programs of its peers.

Furthermore, the professors worry that the survey could turn off current and potential faculty members of KU.

"Within academia, discrimination of any sort is considered to be really uncool," Barrett - Gonzalez says. "A lot of people who are at the top of their profession, they're extremely mobile. And if something doesn't smell right at one place, they find a great slot in another spot."

El-Hodiri says KU is simply not attractive to top academic minds.

Vitter, the provost, is asking professors for recommendations for 12 distinguished "foundation professor" positions that the Kansas Legislature funded with $3 million this year.

"What does he have on his list [of recommended hires] for economics? All the Nobel Prize winners for economics," El-Hodiri says. "Why would anyone want to come to a university like this?"

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