Open Letter to the Oklahoma Board of Regents

Ladies and Gentlemen:

PEN Texas is writing you to protest what may be violations of university policy regarding the tenure process at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in regard to Dr. Rachel Tudor, who has been at SOSU for seven years.

For some 90 years, PEN organizations around the world have supported the rights of authors such as Dr. Tudor to work free of outside influence, pressure or discrimination. PEN Texas is a local chapter of PEN Center USA, the closest chapter to Oklahoma.

Dr. Tudor is an award-winning poet, playwright and scholar—named the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers Writer of the Year in 2000 and given Southeastern’s Faculty Senate Recognition Award for Excellence in Scholarship in 2011—and until last month, she was a professor in SOSU’s English department, who, in 2007, made public the fact that she had transitioned from male to female.

The information that we have indicates that Dr. Tudor is still referred to in official SOSU documents as “him,” even though she became a female four years ago. Further, SOSU’s administration has officially ordered Dr. Tudor not to use female rest rooms on the campus and that she must use only a handicap rest room on a different floor from where her office is located.

Dr. Tudor has been advised that a high SOSU official has inquired as to whether he could have her terminated because her transgenerative lifestyle offends his religious beliefs. In addition, SOSU has denied Dr. Tudor the opportunity to re-apply for tenure, despite what we understand to be a record of scholarly success.
Dr. Tudor has been and remains a dedicated servant of SOSU, and currently serves on the Faculty Senate, Faculty Personnel Policies Committee and enjoys consistent enrollment in her courses.

When she applied for tenure in 2009, the Tenure Review Committee, by a 4-1 vote, recommended that she receive tenure and her department chair recommended her favorably. Nevertheless, SOSU’s Vice President of Academic Affairs disregarded these recommendations, without providing reasons for the denial, as university policy requires.

Following established procedure, Dr. Tudor appealed the unfavorable ruling to the Faculty Appellate Committee, which found in her favor and directed the administration to provide Dr. Tudor with reasons for its denial of tenure. To date, the administration has failed to comply.

Dr. Tudor planned to apply for tenure in 2010, but she received a letter from Dr. Doug McMillan, the Vice President of Academic Affairs, stating that she would not be permitted to apply for tenure because it would “inflame the relationship between the administration and the faculty.” Please note that Dr. Tudor received this letter shortly after she had filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.
Dr. Tudor filed a second grievance with the Faculty Appellate Committee, which again found in her favor. Following SOSU procedure, the Committee’s decision was presented to an administration official, with no result. Dr. Tudor then appealed to the SOSU president, Dr. Larry Minks. There were various delays and no conclusion was reached. Finally, the SOSU Faculty Senate passed a resolution, without one dissenting vote, calling for SOSU to allow Dr. Tudor to apply for tenure. Eventually, Dr. Minks sent a letter to Dr. Tudor denying her appeal.

PEN Texas believes that, from the facts presented to it, there is a basis for the Oklahoma Board of Regents to review this issue. We attach a copy of Sec. 3.7.4 of the SE Academic Policies and Procedures manual on promotion and tenure for the Board’s review. Without examining it in detail in this letter, we believe that the clear thrust of this policy statement is that the faculty’s decisions regarding tenure should be given paramount weight. This is evident in Sec. 3.7.4’s first sentence: “Faculty status and related matters are primarily faculty responsibility; this includes…promotions [and] the granting of tenure…”

Dr. Tudor has exhausted her remedies at the SOSU level, although complaints are pending with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission. PEN Texas asks that the Board of Regents examine this manner carefully, in order to arrive at a solution.

Very truly yours,
Sean Cotter
President, PEN Texas

SE Academic Policies and Procedures manual on promotion and tenure, section 3.7.4:

Faculty status and related matters are primarily faculty responsibility; this area includes appointments, reappointments, decisions not to reappoint, promotions, the granting of tenure, and dismissal. The primary responsibility of the faculty for such matters is based upon the fact that its judgment is central to general educational policy. Furthermore, scholars in a particular field or activity have the chief competence for judging the work of their colleagues; in such competence it is implicit that responsibility exists for both adverse and favorable judgments. Likewise, there is the more general competence of experienced faculty personnel committees having a broader charge. Determinations in these matters should first be by faculty action through established procedures, reviewed by the chief academic officers with the concurrence of the board. The governing board and president should, on questions of faculty status as in other matters where the faculty has a primary responsibility, concur with the faculty judgment except in rare instances and for compelling reasons which should be stated in detail.

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