Braille Monitor                                                                                February 1986

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Not Just at the Entry Level

Reja-e Busailah teaches at Indiana University at Kokomo. He has done so for many years. He is blind. In other words he is well established in his profession, makes an adequate wage, and has an assured position--all of the elements of a success story. How many times have people (especially those connected with the Indiana agencies for the blind) pointed to him as an example of true integration and lack of problems?

Yet, discrimination does not stop with the minimum wage or entry level positions. It permeates every layer of social activity and economic endeavor. It lives in the streets and the factories and, yes, in those centers of enlightenment, the universities. It is not always overt but more often subtle and evasive. It lives in the shadows and cloaks itself with learned phrases and formalized paperwork--but it is discrimination nonetheless: harsh, brutal, and dehumanizing. It withers the spirit and kills the dream.

This is why we have the National Federation of the Blind. It is why the blind and the sighted who care and are knowledgeable have come together for collective action. And the climate is changing. The battle is being won. The very fact of identifying the problem and detailing the occurrences is a major step on the road. Recently Marc Maurer received the following letter:

Kokomo, Indiana
November 24, 1985

Dear Mr. Maurer:

I wish to thank you for your telephone call last week. As I stated in my letter of October 24, the Administration has systematically discriminated against me and has employed subtle and brazen methods in its practices toward me. The following are only a few examples.

For several years I have been barred from teaching a certain course (L390 -- Children's Literature) on the pretext that a blind person may not be able to teach a course in case the textbook used may have pictures in it. After a desperate attempt to protect my right to professional integrity, I was compelled to give up because of other harassments leveled at me. Thus, I have never taught the course.

After eighteen years I applied for a sabbatical for the first time. My application was turned down on the flimsy grounds that the university did not have available a sum of $700 or $800--this in spite of the ruling of the Board of Review in my favor. I got my sabbatical, but not before a year's delay.

Again and again I was given merit raises below the level of my performance, despite my repeated complaints and protests. This in turn has given the Administration excuses to label me as "disruptive," "hard to get along with," and so forth. I am thus very low paid within my division of Arts and Sciences compared to my performance and years of service.

In 1982 I again took the Administration (as I did in 1978) to the Board of Review for a merit raise ridiculously incommensurate with my performance. Indeed, it was so ridiculous that the Administration was willing to reach a settlement if I withdrew my complaint, which I did in both cases. This kind of discrimination continues through the Administration's refusal to grant me equal credit for my services, be it in teaching, research, or otherwise.

For twenty years my teaching never came under attack. My rapport with my students was described in very high terms by the Administration. My class enrollment, despite my reputation as a rigorous teacher, was always good, and I never had a class cancelled because of low enrollment. Now, during this year and all of a sudden, my teaching is being attacked; students whose names I am forbidden from knowing reportedly refuse to take my classes; and enrollment in my upper-level courses has dropped so sharply that in one case a course barely made it, in another a required course has been cancelled, and a third yet another course may not make it. Indeed, an attempt in which a student may have been induced to sabotage one of my classes has been exposed by an administrator and may have been a main reason for his resignation.

Moreover, there seems to be evidence that the Administration tries to muffle any favorable publicity that may accrue to me within the community. I have for many years registered my name with the University's Speakers Bureau to speak on a variety of topics. For several years I haven't been called upon to speak at all. Furthermore, I publish a great deal of poetry in various journals. Recently I have published a book of poems but, contrary to University practice, no attempt has been made to publicize my achievement. I am not a publicity seeker, but the attitude of the Administration gives me concern and confirms my belief that it is systematically discriminatory.

The following is a summary of the case of my candidacy for full professor. After eight years as associate professor, last fall (1984) I put myself up as candidate for full professor in English. Immediately the Administration instituted a policy that a candidate's research or creative work be submitted to outside judges. Mine was. And all the verdicts were very positive. Then, as suddenly, my teaching was attacked, even by an administrator who had termed it "excellent" a year earlier. My teaching had never been attacked before. Indeed, I have--and the Administration knows of all of it--stacks of letters and evaluations from students, and recommendations from former and current faculty and administrators, all testifying to the high quality and excellence of my teaching. As I told you on the phone, I was the only faculty member here to be honored by a former student with a copy of his Pulitzer Prize certificate, a note of thanks, and an invitation to the ceremonies. I do not say this to brag but only to prove again that justice is being brazenly ignored by systematic discrimination.

The criteria of promotion by Indiana University clearly stipulate that the candidate rate is superior in one area, and at least satisfactory in the remaining two areas (the areas are teaching, research/creative, and service). Now, despite the Administration and its pressure on the Promotion and Tenure Committee, still I was voted superior in research /creative, and satisfactory in teaching and service. In other words, I merited promotion according to the established criteria of Indiana University. Nevertheless, the Promotion and Tenure Committee--later pleading ignorance of the criteria--recommended against my promotion. The Administration quickly endorsed the negative recommendation.

Well, I had to go to the Board of Review at the risk of more charges of "disruptiveness," and again the Board ruled in my favor. Then the Promotion and Tenure Committee was reconvened and reversed its vote. The Dean of Faculty then reversed his vote and recommended that I be promoted.

However, the Chancellor still declines to endorse the positive recommendations of my department, of the Chairman of the Arts and Sciences, of the Promotion and Tenure Committee, and of the Dean of Faculties. It has been over two months since the Dean wrote his recommendation.

I am now being told that the Chancellor is again taking my case to Bloomington where a meeting is to be held on December 4. My experiences with the Administration have systematically been negative, and I am indeed apprehensive. I fear that the stage is being set to deny me promotion on some ambiguity or technicality, where I may not then know what to do.

I have no doubt that the Administration has systematically practiced subtle discrimination against me because of my blindness, though I cannot rule out other factors such as politics and national origin. When, in frustration, I have recently told the Administration that I may have to take my case outside, the answer was that the matter should remain a "family affair."

With best wishes.

Sincerely,
Reja-e Busailah

 

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