Cal Poly department head accused of sexism
June 30, 2010
Amid allegations of sexism and poor leadership from a faculty member, the chair of the Cal Poly journalism department’s job is on the line, CalCoastNews has learned.
The news has raised the hackles of journalism students, faculty and staff who take issue with the allegations.
Because of the nature of the complaint, department chair Bill Loving said he thinks his time as chair, after a little more than two years, is close to an end.
“It appears I am in a position where there is an accusation followed by judgment,” Loving said. “The dean has said she has doubts about my ability to lead.”
Loving noted that Liberal Arts College Dean Linda Halisky met with journalism faculty earlier this month and told them that she was unsure if Loving would remain chair of the department.
Meanwhile, criticism of the professor who mounted the allegations, Teresa Allen, started soon after she made her disapproval of Loving’s leadership public, with some of her critics claiming she is retaliating against the chair over policy disagreements.
In the past Allen was considered by many to be one of the most popular teachers in the department.
Now, however, some of her colleagues and students question if Allen’s decision to start a for-profit online magazine that will compete with the campus newspaper for content and advertisers has created a conflict of interest.
“If any faculty or staff is involved in a for-profit business and using free labor from students to benefit their own pocketbook, it is unethical,” said Paul Bittick, the general manager of the Mustang Daily. “Professor Loving is doing a good job here. He is trying to make this department succeed.”
When asked to comment on her alleged accusations of sexism and her colleagues’ concerns about her business, Allen said that the issues didn’t appear to qualify as news and declined to answer the questions.
Critics of Allen question changes she recently made to her feature writing class curriculum. They contend the changes are for the benefit of Allen’s new magazine and not her students.
Allen’s feature writing class syllabus has changed from requiring students to produce longer standard features to short stories of under 500 words, accompanied by photo galleries that focus on the local nightclub scene.
One of Allen’s partners in the magazine, former Cal Poly lecturer and the magazine’s content editor Kim Lisagor, said that it benefits students to learn to write for the web because it gives the students the tools to compete in the future, with the industry expecting more jobs to be online.
In the past, Allen’s students were encouraged to submit their stories to the Mustang Daily for publication. Now, however, she has instructed her students to publish their work on web magazines.
To make up for the lack of content from journalism students, the editors of the Mustang Daily said they began paying students from other departments for content.
“You walk into this position thinking you will have the support of the entire department to find that a professor is trying to compete with you,” said Leticia Rodriguez, the editor of the Mustang Daily and an intern with CalCoastNews. “A professor should not be in competition with a group of students they used to advice.”
Lisagor said that Allen has not submitted any of her students’ work to her for publication. However, she said that their magazine, expected to go online in September, will provide a venue for the students to publish.
“The school has always wanted student to publish,” Lisagor said. “This is just another outlet for them.”
Halisky, a well-liked dean within the College of Liberal Arts who generally responds to the media, did not return repeated phone and email requests for comment.
After a faculty member rejected Allen’s request to have Megan Hassler, a student who had been serving as the paid web editor to the Mustang Daily, work for her as an intern for the summer, she circumvented the usual process and went to the dean for assistance.
“Allen bypassed my office and the department faculty, with respect to students doing unpaid internships, by going directly to the dean,” Loving said.
Nevertheless, Hassler is working on Allen’s website for a percentage of the online magazine and for credit for her senior project.
The contentious relationship between Loving and Allen escalated after Loving rotated the occupants of five department offices in order to provide advertising staff a private office. Allen complained about the room change to the dean as well as students.
“She brought a lot of attention about her feelings over the room change,” said Emilie Egger, English major and last year’s Mustang Daily editor. “Her door says Teresa Allen’s cubby hole. You can cut the tension in the department with a knife.”
Loving said he has told the faculty not to involve students in their disagreements because it can rip a department apart.
As for the claims of sexism in the journalism department, CalCoastNews asked more than a dozen staff members, faculty and students if they thought the claim had merit and, across the board, everyone said they had either not witnessed sexism in the department or that the allegations were false.
“I have never seen sexism,” Rodriguez said. “It makes me furious that one of the few professors in the department who cares more for the students than himself has to go through this.”
Note: CalCoastNews editor George Ramos, who is a member of the journalism faculty at Cal Poly, elected not to be involved in the reporting and editing of this article.