Op-Ed

Gaskell case shows UK does not value diversity

At issue | Jan. 19 Herald-Leader article, "UK settles religious-bias suit; astronomer gets $125,000 after claiming discrimination over views on evolution"

Engraved on the wall of the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's 1984 are the slogans: "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery" and "Ignorance is Strength."

The University of Kentucky, being an institution of higher learning, has its own pretensions to truth, and it seems now to have a few slogans of its own: "Uniformity is Diversity," "Favoritism is Equality" and "Bigotry is Tolerance."

At least that's what appearance would suggest in the case of C. Martin Gaskell, a scientist who was refused a job by the university on the basis, he claims, of his religion. It is a story that has made national news.

At the university that preaches diversity at every available opportunity, Gaskell, the leading candidate for the position of observatory director at UK was turned down for the job after several UK officials determined he was "potentially evangelical." Gaskell then sued the university for religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It started when a UK staffer, who apparently considered herself in charge of keeping the university religion-free, discovered Gaskell had given a lecture at UK in 1997 on science and religion. Another grimly anti-religious professor who saw the lecture declared him a "creationist," an apparent thought crime that cannot be tolerated in a university that champions tolerance.

But according to a hard copy of a speech on his Web site, Gaskell accepts the theory of evolution. It mattered not. Judgment had been declared. The "tolerance police" swung into action.

According to one e-mail obtained in the case, written by a professor before the vote was taken:

"Other reasons will be given for this choice when we meet Tuesday. In the end, however, the real reason why we will not offer him the job is because of his religious beliefs in matters that are unrelated to astronomy or to any of the duties specified for this position ... If Martin were not so superbly qualified, so breathtakingly above the other applicants in background and experience, then our decision would be much simpler. We could easily choose another applicant, and we could content ourselves with the idea that Martin's religious beliefs played little role in our decision. However, this is not the case. As it is, no objective observer could possibly believe that we excluded Martin on any other basis than religious."

One of its arguments used to defend UK's actions was that Gaskell would have public outreach responsibilities and that his religious views would embarrass the university.

Let's apply this to a similar discrimination case against, say, an African-American, a group protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Let's say the University of Kentucky was looking for an agriculture extension officer for a part of the state with a racist history. The job obviously involved public outreach.

And let's say an African-American applied for the job and was clearly the most qualified applicant.

But there were faculty and staff who indicated in e-mails they didn't think highly of blacks and who engaged in a concerted effort to torpedo his candidacy for the job, and one of the reasons was that they felt his race would impair his ability to do outreach in this part of the state.

I think we all know what would happen, and it would have little to do with a potential hire embarrassing the University of Kentucky. It would have a whole lot to do with the university embarrassing itself.

This isn't diversity. It isn't equal treatment. It isn't tolerance. UK got off the hook by paying a relatively small settlement in the case.

But the fact that it still hasn't admitted it was wrong tells us this brand of diversity is nothing more than doublespeak.

  Comments