A sad day, career over, memorialized by this letter. No response. (UPDATE — see meeting notes below.)
As I go on disability, I take this opportunity to write to you about a diversity issue I wish Kent would someday address. I am shy about writing because it has been a matter of great humiliation for me for many years. I don’t think it would be terribly difficult to make some changes that would allow Kent to benefit greatly from those of us that are disabled.
I have bipolar disorder, and have had it for 40 years. I had it when I was one of the first teachers in Czechoslovakia, and when I did my Ph.D. I have a variety that comes with hallucinations and audible/inaudible voices along with the more well-known symptoms. After a few years at Kent, for some unknown reason, my symptoms dramatically worsened. It impacted my tenure/promotion in a very complicated way related to my disability. Teaching became torturous as rolls of smoke came in from the back walls and I had trouble distinguishing between the voices in and out of my head. I took 3 semesters off, was in a catatonic state for a month, and had ECT (shock therapy). I kept at it, and returned to teaching. Students seemed to enjoy my classes, and I was a pioneer for online teaching in my area. I sought grants and was able to put together the first transgender corpus/text bank of interviews known to exist.
But I have had increasing problems, and teaching is now very difficult. Teaching a 3-2 load is entirely beyond me. I will be seeking disability for now, and perhaps transitioning into early retirement.
What I would like to see Kent develop is some fairer responses to faculty disability. At this point, disability requires faculty to perform all of their duties, but just perform them in a different way as an accommodation. For example, a faculty member could teach online rather than face-to-face. This is good. But a disability in reality can make performing at such a level very difficult, and achieving at the same level as peers impossible. This is a de facto exclusion of disabled faculty. It is likely too late for me, but Kent could attract other disabled scholars, and offer more flexibility. For example, I would have been willing to take a smaller salary, teach less, but still be able to teach and research. I am the only language and gender scholar at Kent, which is an area that is practical for students for their own lives, as well as being theoretically challenging. I had things to offer Kent despite my disability.
On a different note, the atmosphere at Kent for disabled faculty is downright awful. I have been tenacious and have succeeded far beyond what my doctors, friends and family could have imagined. But at work, faculty do not look me in the eye. One colleague who was a supervisor in my area discovered personal details of my illness and related them to many other faculty. Faculty in my area figured ways I could “make up for” non-contractual duties I was unable to perform. Only one person has ever asked about my health or recovery. I feel very judged. The validity of my report of this depends on who I am — am I a trouble maker, or very unstable person? I would encourage you to talk with my chair, ___ or my colleague ___ for that.
This has been a much longer letter than I intended, and I won’t keep you. Because of some creative planning, I should be ok. I am planning to continue with my transgender research because my writing is not so affected by this disease. The problem was that teaching with this disability took so much of my time and energy I was unable to write. My main reason in writing to you is because I have little to lose now, and it’s possible that you were unaware of the challenges facing disabled Kent faculty. If you have any questions or concerns, I’d be happy to try to address them. I remain,
UPDATE: Met with VP at Kent over my disability concerns this afternoon (5/13/2016). I was impressed and disappointed both. My main message of empathy was well received, and things will be required of faculty and students on empathy “training” (is that possible?) in the future. It all falls under “climate” issues. My suggestion of teaching people to meditate was interesting. My problems with HR were noted and hopefully will be addressed.
Concerns about making it possible for mentally ill faculty to thrive at Kent were not so well received. They seem unable to accommodate those needs in tenure and research requirements, which means that it is unlikely that faculty with serious mental illnesses (such as schizophrenia or bipolar like me) will succeed. The ADA is sort of cut to the bone, doing only what is absolutely required by law, rather than seeking to have any faculty with disabilities. We talked about A Beautiful Mind. Oddly enough, they work very hard to accommodate every student need (which is good), but are completely opposite with faculty. Why do you think that is? I can’t figure it out. It’s a very macho world, and maybe it’s part of toughness. As if I were weak! 🙂
If you care to take a look at the original letter I sent to the Provost, it is at the following link. Happy to talk with you if you are also dealing with this.