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Mentally Untenured

June 8, 2006

Tenure couldn’t protect one professor coping with a mental illness crisis at Pasadena City College in California.

Yves Magloe, an instructor of English as a second language for six years prior to last fall, says that he tried the best he could to continue teaching classes at the community college after he began experiencing manic delusions as a result of his bipolar disorder, which was first diagnosed in 2000. But, after his medications failed him last October, it became an insurmountable task.

“I felt that my students were carrying guns,” he recalls. “I really felt that my dean was part of a CIA plot. I didn’t feel safe anywhere.” He soon quit taking his medications altogether. His speech became slow, he had no short-term memory, and he couldn’t figure out how to pay his bills. The native of Togo, Africa, who had worked three jobs to put himself through graduate school, also started missing his classes.

Under normal circumstances, as a tenured professor, Magloe could have taken his accumulated sick leave and signed some paperwork that would allow him to take an extended leave of absence. However, he couldn’t do that properly, he says, because he was “so scared of being on campus.” He recalls talking to his dean last fall and felt that the matter was resolved to the best of his ability.

Magloe then left for Togo to be with family members, who prayed for him day and night. He couldn’t check his e-mail until mid-December, when he found a terrifying message. It indicated that the college had processed his resignation on November 18. It said that he had committed “abandonment,” one way that tenured professors can be dismissed by the institution. He returned to the U.S. intending to resolve the situation -- still suffering from delusions -- but ended up being hospitalized for a month earlier this year.

“I thought the heavens were falling on me,” recalls Magloe.

A spokesman with Pasadena City College said Wednesday that officials could not comment on Magloe's case because it involves a personnel matter.

On Wednesday evening, a bevy of faculty members and officials with the California Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, had plenty to say about Magloe’s situation, and urged the college's Board of Trustees to reinstate him immediately. Several made impassioned pleas regarding what they called a lack of due process afforded to Magloe. Others said that a shortage of administrative compassion for the professor highlighted a double standard when it comes to mental disorders versus physical illnesses.

“I have no doubt that there is a bias against faculty members with mental illnesses,” says Brock Klein, an associate professor of English, who spoke at the trustee meeting, and has been advocating for months on behalf of Magloe. “If he’d have been hit by a car and was in a coma in the hospital, there would have been no way for him to sign the paper work.” Brock and others presented the board with a petition signed by over 150 faculty members and students who believe that Magloe should be rehired immediately.

Magloe said firmly Wednesday afternoon that he did not resign. “They’ve had plenty of opportunities to correct this,” he added. “They can rescind their decision.”

After hearing so many faculty members express their support for him during the meeting, he said, "I really feel moved. It melts my heart that everyone is supporting me--it's really touching morally."

“I am furious both as a faculty member and as someone who has a history of mental illness,” says Hugo Schwyzer, a tenured professor of history at Pasadena City College, who has been hospitalized three times in the past for severe bouts with depression. “It was unreasonable to expect him to deal with this burden himself."  He wrote about Magloe's situation this week on his personal blog in a post titled, " Stand up for Yves Magloe: a note on mental illness and discrimination."

Until he learned of Magloe’s case, Schwyzer said he hadn’t felt the need to speak out on mental health issues. “This is a wonderful example of why tenure is important,” he says. “It allows me to disclose what’s embarrassing without being fired. I can be an advocate without the risk.”

Claudia Center, a lawyer with the Employment Law Center in California, says that Magloe likely has a strong argument for reinstatement. “If he needed a leave of absence and everyone was clear that he had a mental illness, he should have been put on leave,” she says.

Center notes that courts in California have found that the presence of a policy that allows for leave indicates that an employee should be able to take it, whether he or she signs paperwork or not. Unless there was some other form of misconduct going on, which Magloe says there was not, Center believes that he would have a solid argument in court if the board fails to reinstate him.

“A lot of employers just shut down when there’s a mental health issue with one of their employees,” says Center. “Part of what disability work laws say is that you have to keep talking.”

Magloe says he is ready to sue the college for reinstatement -- but not for damages -- if the trustees do not give him his job back. “I’m not confrontational by nature,” he says of his decision not to request damages. “It’s a place where I like working. I want them to know that I come in peace, although their behavior really slowed down my recovery.”

His medications have been adjusted and he’s finished participation in an out-patient treatment program. He’s surviving financially thanks to a collection taken up by his former colleagues, as well as from support from friends.

“I feel so much better,” says Magloe. “But I’m missing my work. A big part of my life does not exist.”

It's expected that the Board of Trustees will make a decision in the coming days about Magloe's job status.

 

 

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