Ex-UMBC instructor files $1 million bias lawsuit

January 03, 1995|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,Sun Staff Writer

A former instructor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in a $1 million federal lawsuit has accused her colleagues of thwarting her career -- ultimately having her dismissed -- because she is not a Marxist.

Gisela V. Dibble, who taught German at UMBC from 1984 to 1992, charges that she was blocked from applying for full-time, permanent professorships. In her court papers, she alleges that her department chairman told her, "You are not 'politically correct' and will never get an appointment to a tenure-track position" and that another faculty member said "she was not suitable for a tenure position because she was not a Marxist."

The case holds some irony for UMBC, where there were four campus disputes from 1978 to 1981 in which the school was charged with discriminating against Marxists and political radicals in hiring and tenure decisions.

"Plaintiff was denied academic freedom by the defendants when she refused to prostitute her academic teaching skills, knowledge and beliefs and her admiration for Western Culture . . . to adopt the cult of what is known in academic circles as the 'New Left,' " the suit states.

Dr. Dibble's suit raises a number of issues beyond Marxism; she also charges she may have been punished for complaining, and may have been discriminated against because she is a woman, is German-born and is a Protestant. Although she calls herself politically "on the left," Dr. Dibble said she considers Marxism destructive.

At one point, she says, she was told she could not get a "tenure-track" job (a higher-paying position leading to tenure, or lifetime job security) because she had not yet completed her doctorate. A male applicant ultimately received the tenure track position -- although he finished his doctorate a few weeks after Dr. Dibble did in 1986.

Anne Donohue, the Maryland assistant attorney general representing the university, said UMBC rejected charges that professors and officials violated Dr. Dibble's rights.

"We deny any sex discrimination ever occurred. We deny that any free speech was violated. We deny that any other discrimination occurred," Ms. Donohue said. "If there are any I've left out, we deny those, too."

Several of the professors and university officials named as defendants said they could not comment because the case was pending, but German professor Renate Fischetti and Robert Sloane, chairman of the modern languages and literature department, disputed the accuracy of the statements Dr. Dibble attributed to them.

U.S. Judge J. Frederick Motz has set a deadline of Jan. 23 for a motion by the defense to dismiss the case, which was filed in June 1993. Ms. Donohue said the state will present a thorough defense for the university's actions toward Dr. Dibble.

"I never wanted to file a lawsuit," Dr. Dibble said in an interview last week. "I wanted to go to someone and have them tell me

why I am not qualified. I need my record straightened out, or I can go and work at the 7-Eleven."

For eight years, Dr. Dibble taught German at UMBC under a series of temporary contracts. Although she sought a permanent position that could lead to tenure, she said she was told not to apply.

In December 1991, Dr. Dibble charged "eight years of abusive and harassing treatment" in a long letter from her attorney, Tracy E. Mulligan of Rockville, to then-UMBC President Michael K. Hooker. (Dr. Hooker is now president of the University of Massachusetts.) The letter noted that she often carried as heavy a course load as full-time faculty members. The next spring, she was not offered a contract, which she alleges was retribution for her complaint.

Dr. Dibble lived with her grandparents in East Germany until she was nine years old, when she rejoined her parents in the West.

In her suit, Dr. Dibble asserts Dr. Sloane told her that he did not believe her to be prejudiced against blacks, but said he thought she must be prejudiced against Jews because she is German.

A 50-year-old mother of two who has never held a tenure track-position or made more than $20,000 a year teaching, Dr. Dibble claims a decade of unfair treatment by UMBC has left her jobless and without prospects in academic life. She said her book on the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, to be published by Peter Lang Press, has been slowed by the revocation of her campus privileges, the most important of which is her access to the university library.

The allegations and counterclaims made in the lawsuit offer a window into the insular world of academia, particularly in small departments, where the professional can quickly become personal and departmental decisions are made by a handful of people because they are the only ones in the department.

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