Thursday, April 08, 2004

Thanks to kari edwards for the news that poets Mark Doty and Carl Phillips may have been rejected for a position at Boston College because of anti-gay bias. Since Doty's and Phillips's credentials are impeccable, and BC's president, William Leahy, has been a vocal campaigner against gay marriage, that interpretation looks pretty likely.

A spokesman for Leahy, of course, denies that bias is at work. Maybe you should write Leahy and ask him.

Reading the article carefully, though, there is another possible interpretation of what's going on, which I'm not sure if it's better or worse. Doty and Phillips are both quoted as saying they were explicitly told by the BC English department that their candidacies were rejected on the basis of their sexual orientation. However, the chair of the department is then quoted as saying that he did not explicitly accuse Leahy of bias, but simply "asked questions about whether this might be going on." This sounds like some serious ass-covering to me, and makes me wonder--knowing something about how these kinds of hiring battles work--whether the English department is simply using Doty and Phillips to play academic politics against the BC administration.

It is possible, though not likely, that Leahy did not know Doty and Phillips were gay; if so, then his decision to overrule the department was just dumb rather than discriminatory. As I've said, this seems really unlikely; in a case like this, if the administration were dissatisfied with the top two candidates advanced by the department, they would usually simply decline to hire anyone. But the English department chair's cowardly refusal to stand behind a charge of bias opens the door to the possibility that Leahy really didn't know--or that the English department really had no idea if Leahy knew--and that the English department simply said so to Doty and Phillips to cause a public controversy and score points off the administration. If they really believe that the BC administration discriminated against Doty and Phillips, let them say so. If they don't, then to give Doty and Phillips the impression that bias occurred, and then to deny any responsbility for that accusation, is totally manipulative and leaves Doty and Phillips twisting in the wind--not to mention which it insults and belittles all those gays and lesbians who face discrimination daily.

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