Last week, I received a phone call from a professor who teaches in another department here at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington (UNCW), where I have taught for the past 27 years. He was reporting a case of possible discrimination, which resulted in a professor being denied tenure thus losing his livelihood very soon. When I received the call, I immediately began asking questions to assess the validity of his concern. After just a few questions, I came across some information that will shock the conscience of any clear thinking, rational individual.
By way of background information, professors at our university must pass through several hoops to get tenure after they are initially hired for a tenure-track position. The initial contract is only for a few years. If professors get reappointed, a few years later they have an opportunity to apply for lifetime tenure. But to get this tenure, they first have to get approval from a majority of the tenured professors in their department, their department chair, and their college dean. If applicants succeed at this, they face a final vote from the university-wide Reappointment, Tenure, and Promotion (RTP) Committee. Since every faculty member must pass through this committee, its chair is arguably the most powerful professor on campus.
In the case that was reported to me, the applicant had received all three initial approvals. But, then, the RTP committee chair rejected the application. When I learned this, I asked about who is currently on the RTP committee. That is when I learned that its chair is Dr. Kimberly Cook.
If you have followed my career or read my previous columns, you may recall that name. I successfully sued Cook (and others) in federal court for promotion discrimination. In fact, of the 500 or so faculty members at UNCW today, she is the only one to have ever been successfully sued for discrimination in federal court.