Austin Peay’s New Board Decides University Did Not Discriminate Against Female Job Candidate

Aug 3, 2017

Now that all four-year universities in Tennessee have their own governing boards, those schools have to deal directly with issues like accusations of discrimination. At Austin Peay in Clarksville, the board of trustees decided Thursday morning that a recent complaint of gender discrimination was not substantiated. 

The complaint centered around an assistant professor position* in the school's communications department. A search committee had selected someone for the position earlier this year, but Austin Peay's provost, Rex Gandy, did not approve the candidate because she didn't hold a terminal degree, like a doctorate.

However, a man had gotten a similar position in the department a year earlier, without a terminal degree. So the woman, Jessica Morris, filed a gender discrimination complaint against Gandy and APSU's president, Alisa White.

The school then investigated and found that the communications department had indeed been hiring assistant professors with only a masters, in direct conflict with university policy and the policy of the school's accrediting body. Gandy defended his decision by saying that the department can't keep taking on faculty who don't meet the school's qualifications.

Blayne Clements, APSU's director of internal audit, also noted that the provost had not directly signed off on the qualifications of the male candidate hired in 2016 — but that Gandy had since started meeting with deans before approving new faculty hires. 

White, who agreed with the provost's decision not to hire Morris, gave a similar defense.

"If the dean or provost had come to me about that request to hire last year, I would have made the exact same judgment as this year that the candidate did not meet minimum qualifications for a tenure-track position in the Department of Communication," she wrote in a response. "The only difference is that the issue did not come up to me last year."

This is the first time APSU's board has had to call a special meeting to address a pressing issue. The board only officially formed in March. Previously, the university had been governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, which also oversees the state's community and technical colleges.

*Correction, Aug. 8: This story has been changed to clarify that the communications department was looking to fill an assistant professor position, not an associate professor position, and that it had hired assistant professors in the past without terminal degrees.