Former University of Arizona Honors College Dean Patricia MacCorquodale filed a collective action lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents for $2 million on Jan. 22, claiming the UA has widespread gender pay discrepancies.
Additionally, MacCorquodale’s lawsuit singled out former UA Provost Andrew Comrie, claiming the Dean’s Council, which he chaired, “is primarily composed of men” and alleged he “inappropriately criticized [a female dean's] appearance, stating she should wear skirts more often.” The dean in that incident is not identified.
MacCorquodale’s lawsuit has sparked debate among faculty around pay inequalities, gender discrimination and other rights protected under Title IX, the Equal Pay Acts and university policy on campus.
One such discussion began when former faculty chair Lynn Nadel spoke up in defense of Comrie.
“I have never, not once, seen Andrew treat anyone with disrespect as a function of gender, race, sexual orientation, status — you name it,” Nadel wrote in a Chair Talk on Jan. 23.
Other faculty members echoed Nadel’s sentiment.
“I was shocked when I saw the article in the Tucson Daily Star; it’s not the man I know. Andrew Comrie is definitely not sexist. He’s fair,” said Gail Burd, the UA’s vice provost of Academic Affairs.
Jennifer Barton, director of the Bio5 Institute, concured.
“From my personal interactions with him, Comrie has been a mentor and provided tremendous and incredibly positive support,”she said.
Yet, not all faculty agreed.
“When I first read Dr. Nadel’s initial response to learning about the lawsuit against Comrie, I was a little shocked that he would use his position of power to make a statement before we have all of the facts,” said Russel Toomey, associate professor in family and consumer sciences.
Nadel’s letter to the faculty and the Chronicle of Higher education sparked outrage among some of the faculty. A letter was drafted asking Nadel to either step down or retract his statement.
“Your actions are both inappropriate and premature because, using your own words, you ‘do not know the details and that is for others to judge,’” the letter, orchestrated in part by Toomey, said. “However, you did judge.”
Nadel responded by dedicating the rest of his term to spotlighting gender-based pay inequities.
But for some like Nolan Cabrera, associate professor of Educational Policy, it was too little too late. Cabrera said Nadel should not have spoken out on the Comrie controversy in his official capacity, and that issues like pay inequity and gender discrimination should always have been a priority for the faculty chair.
“The issues you see and experiences you have are the ones you elevate,” Cabrera said.
In the elections for the new faculty chair, Nadel was defeated by Jessica Summers, a professor in the College of Education.
For Summers, the Nadel controversy was the moment she decided she needed to run for faculty chair and give voice to issues and experiences that concerned her and her colleagues on campus.
“That Chair Talk spurred a lot of discussion, and that was sort of the impetus of my considering to run because I think that people wanted a change,” Summers said.
In the end, her colleagues convinced her to run. According to Summers, everyone thought it was time for a more diversity in faculty governance.
Summers ran on a platform of representing faculty interests. She said she believes diversity on campus and in faculty governance, as well as pay equity, are key issues the faculty chair needs to champion.
RELATED: Provost Andrew Comrie steps down
“I think my platform was that the chair really works for the faculty and should have the faculty’s best interests in mind,” Summers said. “Sometimes, that means butting heads with administration if that is what it takes.”
As MacCorquodale’s lawsuit continues to wind its way through the courts, discussions on pay equity continue at the UA. Former College of Architecture Dean Janice Cervelli joined MacCorquodale in suing the university in March.
The UA is seeking an independent agency to conduct a review of its pay structure to determine if it is truly equitable and does not discriminate based on gender.