Women Need Not Apply?

EEOC suit adds to view of many at Newman U. that president doesn't want female candidates for key jobs.
September 23, 2005

Does the president of Newman University have a problem promoting women?

Some faculty members and administrators say he does, and their claims received new backing when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the university on Wednesday, charging it with discrimination against a former dean. In July, the university settled another discrimination case by a female administrator who had won backing from the EEOC, which tends to have a very high standard for getting involved in bias suits against universities.

In both cases, the women cite evidence that the university president -- Aidan O. Dunleavy -- told administrators that he wanted men for administrative jobs that the women sought. In one case, Dunleavy is reported to have said that he wanted a Roman Catholic man in his 40s for the position. (Newman is a Catholic university, in Wichita.)

In interviews, a woman who quit a vice presidency at Newman said she thought that Dunleavy had a problem appointing or promoting women. And last year's head of the Faculty Senate said that the president once made a sexist comment to him and appeared to treat male and female candidates in different ways in a search process for a new dean.

A spokeswoman for Newman said that the university and its officials, including Dunleavy, would not comment on the issues because they are the subject of litigation. "The university denies any wrongdoing and we're going to just have to let the legal process work," she said. She repeated the university's decision not to comment, after being called back and told that multiple, specific allegations were being made about comments allegedly made by the president.

In the latest case, the EEOC sued the university in federal court because of the way Newman treated Marla Sexson. Until last year, Sexson was dean of admissions and also had responsibility for financial aid. She applied for the open job of vice president of enrollment management, and --- according to the EEOC suit -- was turned down because of her gender. Also according to the EEOC, the university retaliated against her after she filed her complaint by changing her job responsibilities and taking away key duties. (She has since left the university.)

In her complaint to the EEOC, Sexson said that she was told that the president said he would not hire a woman for the vice presidency. Sexson said she was told this by someone who had heard it directly from the president. Sexson also said in her EEOC complaint that she had been told directly by Dunleavy, the president, not to hire pregnant women.

Earlier this year, the EEOC also found that another female administrator -- Tara Morrow -- had lost her job as director of student life because of her gender. In Morrow's case, she had applied to be dean of students, but she said in her EEOC complaint that she was told by a senior official at the university (backed up by notes) that the president wanted to hire a Catholic male in his 40s for the job. According to the EEOC finding in the case, the university argued that Morrow lost her job as part of a reorganization of positions. But the EEOC finding said that Morrow was discouraged from applying for a new job because of the view that the president wanted to hire a man.

Michael Shultz, a lawyer for both Sexson and Morrow, said that the terms of Morrow's settlement this summer were confidential.

In addition to the EEOC findings about the university, other people who have had senior positions at Newman back the complaints about the president.

Kim Miller Jacobs was formerly vice president for enrollment management at Newman (she was hired by Dunleavy's predecessor). She quit Newman last year after 16 years there because "after some of the things that I saw happening, I made the decision that it was a place that I could not work at any more." 

While Jacobs, who is now a vice president at Doane College, declined to offer specifics, she said that both Morrow and Sexson were well qualified for the jobs they had sought at the university and that she had doubts -- based on her direct dealings with President Dunleavy -- on his willingness to promote or hire women.

Joel R. Burgeson, who was president of the Faculty Senate last year, when the three women left Newman, said he also believed the reports of the women charging discrimination, based on his own experiences at the university.

Burgeson said that at one point last year, he was walking with the president to the campus dining hall and Dunleavy was reiterating his dislike of the Faculty Senate and told Burgeson that he had an edge over previous presidents of that body. "At least you're a man -- not like the last two," Burgeson said that Dunleavy told him.

Another time, Burgeson said, he was on a search committee for a new dean, and an administrator would periodically report back to the committee's members on the president's reactions to names they were forwarding for consideration. When the president rejected male candidates the committee put forward, he offered a reason, based on qualifications. Female candidates were just rejected, and Burgeson was told that no reason was given.

Burgeson said that there is an element of "he said/she said" or "he said/he said" to the various reports about comments the presidents is alleged to have made. But he said that having experienced the president's comments and actions directly, "I believe all of the other stories."

The two women who brought complaints to the EEOC, and Jacobs, the vice president who quit, were all highly respected by faculty members at Newman, Burgeson said. As a result, he said, "the women on campus, almost uniformly, feel that this is a hostile environment" and faculty morale generally is terrible.

Asking whether there are philosophical roots to the conflict between Dunleavy and many others on the campus, Burgeson said that the president "sees himself as a devout Catholic who wants to make the university more Catholic."

Burgeson, himself a devout Catholic, said that he was "not unsympathetic" to that goal, but that bias against female administrators was not an appropriate way to make the university more Catholic, and that the women who have left the university in no way hurt the university's religious mission.

"He's got it all wrong."


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