Tuesday, November 07, 2006


by Ruth A. Tucker

----Scroll down for "Women lose before Supreme Court (June 2007)"
----Scroll down for "Thoughts on Race and Gender"
----Scroll down for Testimonial of Stan Gundry

Since My Calvin Seminary Story went public, there has been much debate as to what sex discrimination actually is. The argument, in my case, seems to be that if a Calvin Seminary Board committee and mediators can't find purposeful sex discrimination, then there is none.

It is difficult to find a precise legal definition of sex discrimination, but rarely is there evidence of sex discrimination that is obviously purposeful, as in: We gave Ruth Tucker a terminal appointment because she is a woman.

One of the reasons that sex discrimination is so insidious is because it is so universally denied. Denials typically work. But my situation is significant as a case study because it is so rich in documentation. It involves three male administrators who insist they have no gender bias. But the facts speak for themselves.

In 2000, I was hired as the first full-time woman faculty member at Calvin Theological Seminary, a small denominational school connected to the Christian Reformed Church. That I was the first woman in 125 years was a story significant enough to rate an article with my photo in the Grand Rapids PRESS. On January 2, 2003, with no warning, a new 3-man administraation removed me from tenure track and gave me a terminal appointment.

The reasons given for this singular action initially related to false claims of poor faculty and student evaluations. When these reasons were shown to be groundless, "ungodly conduct" and "defecits" and "deficiencies" were added. I insisted from the beginning that all documents related to my case be opened up. The administration refused, claiming "confidentiality."

My position from the beginning until now has not changed. I maintain that if all my so-called "deficits" were added up, they do not exceed those of my colleagues. Indeed, I am absolutely convinced that an independent observer would rank me high alongside my all-male colleagues. Thus, my charge of sex discrimination. (If this is not a case of sex discrimination, then why was a highly qualified professor demoted and treated so badly?)

I love classroom teaching, especially when it is lively and interactive. A male Seminary Board member (evaluating me in January 2004 when I was kept off tenure track a second time) described my teaching style, both positively and negatively: "Dr. Tucker was warm and welcoming of the students. . . . She was able to engage students well. I got the impression that Dr. Tucker loves to talk about and debate various issues. I found this challenging, but I do wonder if some students might find this style a bit intimidating."

I suppose I should appreciate the fact that a board member is concerned about my intimidating students. I have to wonder, however, if he would have said the same thing if I were male--like all my colleagues. Nevertheless, my students evaluated me well. My course evaluations for the very next quarter (summed up on a statistical overview that I received by mistake) showed that I was second highest of all the faculty evaluated.

There are so many facets of my story that it's hard to easily summarize it. And it's possible that sex discrimination was not the major motivation. But that I was the first and only full-time woman faculty member at the school in its 125-year history is very signigicant and that brings the matter of sex discriminaation to the fore whether one likes it or not.

Why was I uniquely singled out among all my male colleagues to be so harshly disciplined. In acadamia, short of being fired outright, nothing is worse that being removed from tenure track and given a terminal appointment.

This was done despite the fact that the majority of my colleagues supported reappointment without reservation. Likewise, I recieved very strong evaluations from the Seminary Board members who evaluated me (in both 2003 and 2004), and the Student Senate supported my reappointment.

What is most significanat about this reappointment process is that the Seminary administration carried out a hatchet job without supporting evidence. Indeed, it was one of the 3 administrators who gave me a damning evaluation that was quoted at length to justify my being given a terminal appointment. His was one of two evaluations by "colleagues" that did not support my reappointment.

If one of the administrators submitted an evaluation for me (as he admitted in the mediation process), I surely do not assume that the other 2 administrators did not submit evaluations as well. So, the question that I've never had answered is: Were the 2 evaluations against my reappointment BOTH made by administrators? (And the biggest question of all: Why are administrators submitting "faculty" evaluations in the first place?)

Whatever the answers are, the bottom line is that I was given a terminal appointment by 3 new administrators who broke every rule of due process. That is precisely why they have insisted on "confidentiality" whenever I have asked that all the documents pertaining to this matter be opened up.

The seminary is closely tied with Calvin College and both institutions publish their compliance with the law regarding sex discrimination. See below for Calvin's nondiscriminatory policy.

"Women lose before Supreme Court (June 2007)"

From TIME Magazine (June 18, 2007, p. 56): "The Justices recently decided 5 to 4 that workers are out of luck if they file a complaint under Title VII--the main federal antidiscrimination law--more than 180 days after their salary is set. That's six measly months to find out what your co-workers are making so that you can tell whether you're getting chiseled because of your sex, race, religion or national origin."

In my brief consultation on three occasions with attorneys, I was told that I'd missed the 180-day time limitation. Such limitations severely handicap woman and others who are already working in hostile environments. Had I filed a suit within the 180-day limitation, I knew that any hope of reconciliation would be shattered. I would be without a job and before a court that is not known for being supportive of women in the workplace.

So for those who say rather sarcasticly, Why didn't you sue, the answer isn't so easy.


One of the most often-repeated denials at Calvin Seminary is that there is no sex discrimination at the school. AND, surely not among the three administrators who have all been on record as opposed to sex discrimination.

That the administrators are not tainted with any gender bias is simply assumed by most people who read or listen to their "pro-women" statements. They assume that if there is no proof of obvious sex discrimination, then there is none. But we should be very cautious about making such assumptions. I have been surprised in several instances to receive comments from men who have stated that my story has made them contemplate their own gender bias. That is the first step in seeking to overcome such bias.

The same is true of racism. A few years ago one of my seminary colleagues attended a seminar on racism. He came back very irritated by some of the presentations and insisted that he had absolutely no race bias. Yet, he was very much a part of a seminary system that has excluded African Americans from administrative, faculty, and staff positions. Not obviously so. But just as there has been no full-time women on the faculty (until I came), there have been no African Americans. By their very absence, the school is guilty of systemic racism. And this colleague who denied any race bias, I believe, was deceiving himself and others.

I know that I am not free of racism. But by being ever conscious of the racism that is unconscious, I seek to become less racist than I am. I've lived in an integrated neighborhood for nearly 30 years and my son went through public schools where the majority of students were minorities. Race has been a part of my life for decades. I cringed when my 17-year-old son told how he was verbally abused as a "nigger-lover" when he was seen at a movie or fast-food joint with a black neighbor girl. It hurt him and how much worse must she have felt? Because of such experiences I am very conscious of race issues and I seek to bring race balance to my writing and teaching. But that certainly doesn't mean that I'm not infected with racism.

This past year there was a problem with a giant dead tree across the alley just behind my garage. Huge limbs were falling off and it looked as though the tree could come down any day. Neighbors and I called the city for months but it seemed to take forever before it was finally removed--at the expense of the neighbor across the alley in whose yard the tree stood. I was upset about the situation, and on one occasion I caught myself with racist thoughts. Fortunately, I caught myself, and my thoughts stopped dead in their tracks (though not necessarily never to return). The fact of the matter is that the failure to remove the dangerous tree had nothing to do with the owner's race. Yet, I momentarily thought those thoughts-----and I repented.

When I was teaching a seminaray course last year with a segment on racism, I opened the the all-white class session by saying: "There is racism in this school." I paused just listening to the silence. Then I said: "There is racism in this room." By now I really had the attention of the twenty or so students. I just stood there leaning out at them over my podium and waited as the silence ticked away. And then I said: "I know there is racism in this classroom because I am here." I talked about myself, and then some of the students opened up about their own racism.

I wonder if there will ever be anybody at Calvin Theological Seminary who will come forward and say to me (like men outside the school have said): "Yes, I'm infected with gender bias and I want to hear your sex discrimination complaints." The question is: Will Calvin Seminary ever take such a first step toward gender reconciliation as to admit that there is sexism at the school--institutionally and personally? I will report it here if it happens.

Unconscious Sex Discrimination

Stan Gundry (Zondervan publisher and former church history professor) has published online a fascinating story:

From Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers to Woman Be Free: My Story

This story tells long journey in becoming an egalitarian--a journey often impeded by fear, above all, "fear of being taught by a woman, or worse yet, fear of admitting I had been taught by a woman, my wife."

He testifies how the residual effects of sex discrimination continued after he should have been rid of such. Thanks, Stan, for an open and honest story, including this paragraph that continues your thoughts on fear:

"This last fear was the most pernicious and enduring of all. I remember with great shame an episode in the early 1980s, well after I had become an egalitarian, indeed after I had been forced to resign from the Moody faculty for supporting my wife’s egalitarian views as expressed in Woman Be Free. I had been invited to Houghton College to debate the women’s issue with a gentleman who held the traditional hierarchical view. Even back then I normally refused to engage in point by point argumentation of the issues. I simply told the story of how I had become an egalitarian and what I had found compelling that changed my mind, but with one huge omission and distortion. I failed to acknowledge Pat’s key, indeed pivotal part in my journey to biblical egalitarianism. Why? Fear. So I want to say with unambiguous clarity now, Pat started me on this journey and was my teacher along the way."

Calvin's Nondiscriminatory Policy

Calvin College does not discriminate with regard to age, race, color, national origin, sex, or disability in any of its education programs or opportunities, employment, or other activities. Questions pertaining to Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex . . . may be directed to the Director of Admissions.

The government site it helpful: http://www.ed.gov/policy/rights/guid/ocr/sex.html

From a website: The University of California Santa Cruz:

What is sex discrimination?

It is unlawful and violates UCSC policy to discriminate against any academic or non-academic employee or any student because of her/his sex.

For students this prohibition covers any academic program, student service, any benefit or opportunity provided by UCSC and student employment.

For employees this prohibition covers hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment.

The law also prohibits academic or employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits, or the performance of individuals on the basis of sex.

The law and policy prohibit both intentional discrimination and neutral job or academic policies that disproportionately exclude individuals on the basis of sex and that are not job related.


It is my desire to publish my story along with the stories of other women who have faced sex discrimination. This site is incomplete. I will be posting more on my own story and including stories of others.

Seminary loses discrimination ruling

The Lutheran, Jun 2000 by Elizabeth Hunter

A candidate for a 1995 faculty position at the Lutheran Seminary lat Gettysburg (Pa.) was discrimmated against because of her gender, said a regional office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a March 31 ruling.

Calling the decision an "unfortunate" reversal from an April 26, 1999, ruling in which "the EEOC found there was no basis for [the] charge," Norma Wood, seminary dean, said the school was "profoundly disappointed."

The new EEOC ruling says a review of the resumes of both the female candidate, Lauve Steenhuisen, a professor at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., and the successful candidate, a white male, "clearly shows that [Steenhuisen] was more qualified than the successful candidate," who "failed to meet the requirements and who had little relevant experience."

Steenhuisen's attorney,Victoria Toensing, said EEOC officials determined that Darrold Beekmann, who is retiring this summer as seminary president, hired the male candidate despite opposing votes by faculty and student committees. "We are disappointed that [seminary officials] have refused to discuss any settlement of this case and have been in denial about their sex discrimination," Toensing said.

John Spangler, Gettysburg's director of communications, said it was "erroneous to report that the seminary has been unresponsive." He said the president recommends a candidate, but the board of directors makes the final decision. "Neither the search committee nor the faculty at any time supported Dr. Steenhuisen's candidacy. In fact, Dr. Steenhuisen lacked a major qualification... the master of divinity or master's in theology or its equivalent," Spangler said.

"[Gettysburg] hired a highly qualified teacher for the position sought by Dr. Steenhuisen," Wood said. "We believe [she] was treated fairly. ... We have done nothing wrong. We intend to continue to vigorously defend the seminary before the EEOC and, if necessary, in the courts."

Elizabeth Hunter
Copyright Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Jun 2000

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found your blog and had to respond. I have had similar experiences, only in educational administration. I published my story in a book, Plaintiff Blues this summer. My blog is plaintiffblues.blogspot.com. You will notice that I not only experienced job discrimination, but significant retaliation once I challenged. Did you also have experiences with retaliation?