Sexist, racist discrimination in academia – the case of Lulu Sun

Dr. Lulu Sun is a Full Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where she began working as an Assistant Professor in 1994 and was promoted to Associate Professor, with tenure, in 1997.

In 2003, Dr. Sun applied for promotion to Full Professor. There were six  stages she had to go through to gain this promotion. The first two she passed with flying colors. These were: the assessment of her tenured colleagues, and the assessment of her Department Chair.

It was a the next step of the process that she encountered difficulties, and what turned out to be lies and both sex discrimination and racial discrimination. That next step was the assessment of the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Dr. Michael Steinman.

To quote from the report of  Colleen Flaherty in Inside Higher Ed:

“Steinman … allegedly told Sun that it would be an “embarrassment” to send her dossier to the provost for review in 2003, and patted her on the back, saying, “It’s okay, Lulu.” Steinman denied that claim during the commission’s investigation, and did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Inside Higher Ed through a spokesperson at St. Peter’s University, where he is currently interim provost. But Waxman said that email exchanges and faculty testimony suggested that such exchanges had occurred.
The hearing officer also determined that Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack, who has since retired, had “rubber-stamped” negative recommendations from the dean and Louis Esposito, the provost at the time, even though she was aware of irregularities in Sun’s review.”

Steinman was a controversial character at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He was recalled as Dean as a result of faculty complaints, and was known to use foul language in conversation with academic colleagues.

Dr. Sun’s persistence, in the face of serious opposition from Dean Steinman, then Provost Lou Esposito, Dean William Hogan and – critically – from Chancellor Jean McCormack, lead to a 2011 decision to award her promotion to Full Professor, and pay both damages and compensation.

The University appealed this decision. However in 2014 the original finding and order was upheld.

Originally – in 2011 – Chancellor McCormack was ordered to do anti-discrimination training. You can imagine the acute embarrassment, not to mention white-hot anger and fury, from a Chancellor who was not used to being questioned or challenged. She left the University, as did Steinman and Dean William Hogan.

McCormack and Steinman

Ironically, a new administration- Dean Jen Riley, Provost Mohammad Karim, and Chancellor Divina Grossman now face the anti-discrimination training that the previous administration was ordered to undertake.

Let’s hope the University learned a lesson – certainly it suffered a heavy financial hit – and that it treats its faculty and students with openness, honesty, and transparency.

Congratulations to Lulu Sun for overcoming very difficult obstacles, and for persisting with logic, accuracy, honesty and courage in her 10 year fight for justice.

— Emily Rooney – NPR, Boston – interviews Lulu Sun, 2011 —

The latest – good – news from this saga of discrimination is that The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, under a new senior administration, is to pay Lulu Sun $1.2 million.

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For more stories based around intrigue, ambition and deceit in academia, read “Coffee, Love and Matrix Algebra”