[Note: In an effort to raise awareness and share news about an academic program within A&S and at KSU, Molly Merryman is resigning as director of LGBT Studies. She has run since 2010. Molly is resigning in protest because she says the University administration is not funding the program. It has a lot of twists and turns but you can read for yourself if interested.]
Since 2010, I have been coordinating LGBT Studies, a program that has been operating with volunteer coordinators and no dedicated faculty since Robert Johnson, Trudy Steuernagel and I founded what was at the time the first LGBTQ/Sexualities Studies program in the state of Ohio.
During that time, the LGBT Studies program has decidedly influenced the culture at KSU. We found a community for students that complemented Pride Kent!, which is the oldest continuously operating LGBTQ student organization in the country. We have happily supported the creation of Delta Lambda Phi and Trans*Fusion, and we have seen students who take our Introduction to LGBT Studies course become student leaders, and after they have graduated, we have seen them become community leaders, professional successes and influential staff at KSU.
We started two student academic scholarships and an emergency fund for LGBTQ students—raising nearly $100,000 to benefit students. A vibrant regional campus cohort thrives at the Stark campus. We have forged community relationships throughout Ohio and academic relationships throughout this country. We have improved Kent State University’s profile as a diverse institution and its ranking in the national Campus Pride Index. We have encouraged LGBTQ faculty in a number of disciplines, some who have been affiliates and some who have not. We have participated in the development of new classes and new interests in the scholarship of gender and sexuality. We have met with prospective students and faculty attracted to Kent State in part because of our program. And we have every year since 2001 successfully enrolled students in every section of the Introduction to LGBT Studies that we were able to offer.
The one thing we never have succeeding at doing is getting Kent State University to provide a budget to pay faculty and support the program. Every coordinator and cocoordinator who has run this program since 2001 has done so as a volunteer. Since 2009 the coordinator has not even been able to teach Introduction to LGBT Studies, except as a summer overload because no money is budgeted to offset home department teaching obligations. The College has provided the program no budget, no staffing, no compensation and nothing except the dedication of a handful of faculty and students.
This model has got to stop. Kent State University and the College of Arts & Sciences must provide structural and financial support for LGBT Studies.
Two years ago, three LGBT Studies affiliates (Walter Gershon, Laurie Wagner and myself) developed a new curriculum to replace the decade-old course structure that is outdated and unmanageable. We developed this so that the entire minor could be online, thus opening up possibilities to all of our regional campuses and to the majority of students around the country who lack LGBT Studies programs at their universities. We explored developing a graduate certificate, and we explored partnering with Women’s Studies to develop a Gender and Sexuality major. But to implement these changes, we needed support to be able to have full-time faculty teach these courses and compensated program coordinators to administer these changes.
That support has never come.
As a result, the program has a skeletal structure that (with the exception of one course) relies on courses in other departments to cobble together a minor program. With the implementation of RCM and the tightening of departmental course offerings, these courses have been offered less and less, and more often than not, our students can’t complete the minor because the courses just aren’t offered in a timely sequence. And yet I have been told the only way to get money is to have large numbers of minors. So as you can see, we are stuck.
Five years ago, program co-coordinator Daniel Nadon and I partnered with the incoming vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Alfreda Brown, and vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, Greg Jarvie, to open up the university’s LGBTQ Student Center. And Dan and I volunteered to get the center started. Despite our other obligations, we volunteered because students kept reaching out for us for support, for programming, for encouragement, and for help. We believed that if we could get it started, the university would support it, and they did.
But support has never come for the academic program at the core of these initiatives. For years, we have kept the LGBT Studies program limping along because it served not just an academic mission, but it filled an essential need for our LGBTQ students. Now that we have the LGBTQ Student Center and a solid structure of support for our students who are sexual and gender minorities, it is time for our program to quit limping along with outdated courses, uncompensated faculty and a curriculum impossible for most students to complete.
I can no longer be the coordinator for an academic program that I know has lost its national standing because it lacks any structural support. It has smart students, accomplished faculty and a fresh curriculum. But without support, all of those are languishing.
Even though I founded this program, and even though I so significantly care about its students, I have to step down as coordinator. I cannot continue to be part of an academic program that is not fulfilling its pedagogical and scholarly goals because it lacks support from its university. In addition, the program co-coordinator Laurie Wagner is stepping down because she needs to prepare for going up for tenure and promotion, and our university regards this kind of administrative volunteer work as service, which does not earn any of us tenure or promotion or merit.
In addition to not counting toward those important markers of our profession, the coordinator roles have been unpaid, and the program itself has had no budget despite bringing annual revenue into my department and the College. The only course we control has been taught by an adjunct because even the coordinators were never provided with course releases from their departments to teach the course. This adjunct teaches the class in a dynamic, rigorous and current manner, but adjunct wages are exploitation wages, and an adjunct cannot contribute to student life or curricular reforms.
As some of you know, I serve on the national advisory board and am an Institute faculty member for Expanding the Circle, the premiere national institute for LGBTQ Studies, LGBTQ Centers and related program. For the past three years, Ken Valente (Colgate University) and I have conducted workshops on starting and maintaining LGBTQ Studies programs, and we published a book chapter about starting and running LGBT Studies programs. But increasingly the extreme disconnect between what we teach as acceptable models of support and what we have at Kent State University has demoralized and embarrassed me. I cannot continue to teach colleagues from other academic institutions models of best practice for implementation when I am involved in a program that is now inferior and not functioning in a manner that encourages student success because it is not supported by its institution.
It saddens me deeply that I have to step down from leading a program I care about, but I feel that if coordinators and faculty continue to allow ourselves to exist as volunteers within a powerful university with an operating budget and endowment approaching $1 billion, when we are in fact highly educated and respected scholars, then we are complicit as sexual and gender minorities in our own exploitation. And that is not effective role modeling for our students.
Coordinator after coordinator has been told that if we care about our students and this program, it is up to us to volunteer our time, our knowledge and our scholarly lives. In stepping down, I am imploring university administration to do what’s right and support the scholarly lives of LGBTQ students and the lives of other students interested in learning about LGBTQ lives. In other words, if Kent State University administration cares about LGBTQ students and LGBT Studies students, it is up to them to demonstrate that commitment by offering a tiny budget amount so that the LGBT Studies program can continue.
I am asking that the university fund workload equivalencies of at least 3 credit hours per semester plus summer pay to adequately compensate a coordinator, that the university commit workload equivalencies to LGBT Studies affiliates of at least 6 credit hours per semester to teach LGBT Studies classes, and that the program be provided a budget for conference travel, student workers and other operating expenses. In short, I am asking that a program that has consistently proven itself as a volunteer operation for 14 years finally be recognized for what it is—a scholarly academic unit. And I am asking that the university develop a plan that allows for growth to full-time positions in addition to tenure-track workload compensations if the program meets goals it and the College develop for increased enrollments and program expansions.
My friends and colleagues, I imagine you realize how difficult the decision to step down is for me. I have been closely engaged with the program and its students since 2001, from teaching the first special topics class in order to demonstrate interest, through developing the program, being the affiliate coordinator and finally coordinating the program. I am proud of us being the first LGBT Studies program in the state, I am so impressed with the students (LGBTQ and straight, gender sys people) who have learned and grown, and I am so pleased that the LGBTQ Student Center we developed has a talented director, active advisory board and enthusiastic student staff. But our academic program is in this moment not a program to be proud of and it won’t return to being a distinctive program in which students can learn the most current models of sexuality and gender identity scholarship unless the university is willing to invest in what has been a proven and successful example of diverse and cutting edge pedagogy and scholarship. I hope you will join me in reaching out to David O’Dell Scott, associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, James Blank, dean, College of Arts & Sciences, Alfreda Brown, vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and university president Beverly Warren so that they know that this program matters to you.
Ph.D. Coordinator and Co-Founder of LGBT Studies
Associate Professor and Associate Chair of Sociology