SLU professors open up about discrimination

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Cornelia Horn is the former female theology professor here at SLU who last month won a $367,000 suit against the University for sex discrimination. Dr. Horn alleged that in her time at SLU she was subject to multiple incidents of bias from her male colleagues, as well as being denied tenure because she reported the incidents of bias to the University.

She claimed the decision to deny her tenure was based heavily on a recommendation against tenure written by the then-chair of the theology department, Fr. J.A. Wayne Hellmann. Hellmann cited Horn’s lack of “collegiality” for his recommendation against promotion. Horn was a professor at SLU from 2004-2012 and since her departure, SLU has changed presidents and has also promoted a new chair to its theology department. It should be noted that the University is not satisfied with the results of the case, and is currently exploring its options for moving forward.

The case has the potential to be ongoing and, therefore, many details have not yet been released.

As a private institution, SLU is not required to publicly release information such as salary and promotion records. It was only through an informal study done by Penny Weiss in the Political Science and Women & Gender Studies departments that it was discovered how very few female faculty have been promoted to full professors at SLU. At the time of her study it was  more likely that a female professor would have been hired as a full professor with tenure than to be promoted to full within their department.

Within the College of Arts and Sciences, tenure is based heavily on three components: research, teaching, service, advising; knowledge of the field; and collegiality. For research it is generally required that the professor has published a book, or the equivalent of a book in articles. Research is the component most likely to hold back a candidate. It is considered rare for a candidate to pass on research and not on another component. After the department votes on whether or not to endorse an applicant for tenure, a letter is always written by the chair of the department, and the department’s vote and chair’s letter are sent to the greater college Rank and Tenure Committee.

Dr. Horn offers an interesting case as she was described as a “research star” by her colleagues, having already published multiple books and articles at the time. The department also did vote positively for her tenure, but it was the letter with its reference to the view that Dr. Horn was not a team player that caused the Rank and Tenure committee to decide against promotion.

Julie Hanlon Rubio, a female tenured full professor at SLU who was promoted in-department, was the first mother within the Department of Theological Studies in just 1999. This calls attention to the fact that demographics within the University have only recently begun to change. Universities are beginning to examine their dominant cultures and practices in order to assess how they can be truly welcoming of racial and gender diversity within their faculty. Women and scholars of color may study in the field topics not traditionally considered to be within the main components of their discipline, or they may challenge the classic perception of what it is that makes a good professor.

Change is the watchword of the moment. Moving forward the theology department has mimicked SLU’s change in leadership with the appointment of a new chair, Dr. Peter Martens. There are currently two women sitting on the search committee with Dr. Martens to conduct the hiring process for the department. Intentional steps have been made, such as updating the rank and tenure requirements for the department, and the creation of a diversity hiring plan in order to create a diverse pool of applicants for two open positions to move the department forward.