With the Summer Olympics right around the corner, spots on the U.S. women's gymnastics team almost certainly are taken. But if a spot on the team opens up, I nominate UAB human resources director Cheryl Locke to fill it.
Locke shows the ability to twist herself into some remarkable contortions with the letter I received via certified mail last week, upholding my termination at UAB.
The point of Locke's letter, dated July 18, is this: Our own employee grievance committee has found that you were wrongfully terminated and recommended that you be reinstated, but I'm going to uphold your termination anyway.
You can see where Locke, or any other human being, would have a hard time supporting that position. But she takes a crack at it anyway.
Continuing with the gymnastics theme, I might note the importance of the dismount in a gymnast's routine. You can perform all sorts of remarkable stunts on the balance beam, for example, but if you mess up the dismount, your score is going to go kaput.
Locke pretty much falls flat on her face on the dismount. And that's because, despite all of her efforts to turn herself into a human pretzel, she never had a leg to stand on in the first place. Her routine was doomed from the outset
The contents of Locke's letter were not a surprise to me. In our most recent meeting, she said that, despite her own committee's recommendation, she would uphold my termination because I refused to except her terms--that I return to UAB with two written warnings in my file and that I accept an (unspecified) position other than the one I held previously. I had reported the details of that meeting here and here.
My reaction when I saw her explanation in writing? I guess sadness would be the best description. I've been proud to be a UAB employee for 19 years, and while the institution has its faults (like any big operation), it certainly could be argued that it is Alabama's No. 1 success story. After all, it brings in more federal research dollars than the University of Alabama (in Tuscaloosa) and Auburn University combined.
To see UAB resort to Nixonian tactics in an effort to cover up a wrongful termination that clearly was driven by external political forces is, well . . . it's sad. UAB should be above that. Any academic institution, a place that claims to be about ideas and exploration and service and instruction, should be better than that.
Also, Cheryl Locke has an Ivy League education (Brown University). And it's sad to see someone with that kind of pedigree resort to the tortured logic that is present in her letter to me. You would think a sense of shame alone would keep her from putting such nutty thoughts on paper. But I guess even folks with Ivy League degrees can turn into "yes people" when their superiors insist that a certain result be achieved--even if it isn't supported by facts, logic, reason--or the law.
One final thought: Women, and all people who care about equal rights for women, should be ashamed of what is taking place at UAB. Every key player in my termination, at least the ones on the surface, is a woman. Every person in my chain of command at UAB--Pam Powell (my supervisor), Dale Turnbough (Powell's supervisor), Shirly Salloway Kahn (Turnbough's supervisor), and Carol Garrison (university president)--is a woman. Locke, of course, is a woman, and my administrative leave meeting was conducted by Anita Bonasera (a woman). Our departmental HR representative is Janice Ward (a woman).
Every woman I've mentioned knows that my termination is bogus. Some of them might not know exactly what, or who, is driving it. But my guess is that at least half of them know exactly what is going on. Has any of them had the guts, or the character, to stand up and say, "This isn't right, and I'm not going to participate in it." Nope.
Besides me, the only man in the whole process has been Bobby Barnes of Employee Relations, and he only became involved because Kelly Mayer (a woman) had a conflict.
I've long been a supporter of women's rights; it's one of the main reasons I'm a Democrat. I want my wife and mother and sister and nieces to be treated fairly and equally under the law. If my wife and I had a daughter, I sure as heck would want her treated fairly and equally under the law. For what it's worth, this blog has been inspired by our miniature schnauzer Murphy, who was a girl. And I would have put my life on the line for her.
Heck, after reading reviews of the new movie Mama Mia, I hauled out one of my wife's Abba albums last night and gave it a listen. (Those catchy tunes are still jangling through my cranium.) Am I in touch with my feminine side or what?
I can recall thinking a few years back--having lived through Watergate, Iran Contra, the savings and loan scandal, etc.--that the world probably would be a better place if far more women were in charge of things.
Well, my recent experience at UAB is causing me to reassess that position. It's not that I'm suddenly hostile to women's rights; I'm not. But anyone who thinks an organization is going to be more ethical, empathetic, rational, reasonable, caring, or efficient just because women run it . . . well, I think they might be in for a surprise.
The UAB Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight is showing that women can be every bit as dishonest, clueless, conniving, spineless, and morally shaky as men can.
As for Locke's letter, it probably doesn't merit much attention here. But it might be instructive for us to consider the depths to which people in academia will stoop in an effort to support the unsupportable. I suspect they are most likely to stoop to these depths when someone from outside academia--but with power over the institution--applies the right kind of pressure.
So in an upcoming post, we will deconstruct Cheryl Locke's pretzel logic.
(To be continued)