Update: Discrimination-Gate Scandal
By David G. McAfee
Many of you may remember a couple of weeks ago when I told the story of the head of the UCSB Religious Studies Graduate Department who called me an “atheist activist with an axe to grind”- and my subsequent rejection from the graduate program. For those of you who don’t please check out the original article for details. Shortly thereafter, I was overwhelmed with e-mails of support from secular activists, professional lawyers, and those involved with the humanist movement more broadly. I posted an article with instructions for those wishing to participate in our Letter-Writing Campaign- and had some amazing letters sent to the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. This weekend, we will be organizing a second campaign directing letters to the heads of UCSB and the UC system as a whole voicing support for the separation of church and state in admissions decisions and conversations between professors and students at a secular, public, university.
As you may also be aware, I met with the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs on Monday 04/18/2011. I discussed the particulars surrounding the conversation with Professor Taves in which she alluded to my lack of religious convictions as being the reason that I would be denied entry to Graduate School at UCSB in the Religious Studies department. Thanks to this meeting, and to the many letters of support from those of you who were generous enough to give your time to writing them, I learned today that UCSB has agreed to review my application again without input from the Professor charged with discrimination. Here is a portion of the e-mail that I received from the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Dr. Michael Young:
I have learned that the Religious Studies Department is prepared to give your graduate program application another review. Professor Taves will not be involved in this review in any way. The review committee will evaluate your original application materials and will also accept any additional materials you would like them to consider”
This, in itself, is an enormous victory- but the fight is not over. I chose, for purposes of preserving the integrity of my original application, to not submit additional materials, and should be hearing back from the review committee in the coming weeks. There are two points that I’d like to stress here.
1.) I do not expect UCSB to accept my application for enrollment based on this second review of my original application. The reason that I believe this second review will result in the same decision is that to accept me now, after my formal discrimination grievance against Professor Taves, would be to admit wrongdoing and prejudicial discrimination on behalf of Taves during the first review. If this is the case, it is hard to see a scenario in which they would be able to continue employing Taves- and I don’t see it being beneficial for their “image” to fire a tenured Professor for discrimination based on religious preferences.
2.) Secondly, if UCSB does decide to accept my admission based on this second review of my original application, I doubt very much that I’d choose to continue my enrollment there- working directly under Professor Taves- in a department that has condoned the discrimination of atheists (as the application decision was not solely Taves’, though she assuredly made the final decision).
That being said, I will continue to push this issue as far as possible, through legal channels, in order to ensure that future applicants are not met with the same unjust acts. I will continue to be in contact with Michael Newdow, leaders from various secular organizations across the country, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State in order to be sure that we receive- at minimum- a formal apology by Taves or the university, as well as the amount of publicity necessary to make sure that atheist students are given equal opportunities in secular, public, colleges across the United States.
Yours in reason,
David G. McAfee