March 28, 2012

Former professor files suit against the University of Louisville

By Michelle Eigenheer–

Karen Britt, a former University of Louisville professor of fine arts was denied tenure by the university and is now formally suing U of L and Provost Shirley Willihnganz, individually.

Cited in the complaint are claims of gender discrimination, a heavy workload without adequate compensation, breach of contract by the university, “malicious” comments made by Provost Willihnganz “with the sole purpose of causing harm to the plaintiff and her reputation” and a denial of equal protection under the law of Kentucky.

The University of Louisville and Willihnganz filed a joint response that denies many of Britt’s allegations, stating at multiple times in the response that they “deny any wrongdoing or liability inferred or implied therein.”

In a statement by Mark Hebert, Director of Media Relations for U of L, “The University follows a process when considering faculty members for tenure.  This process was followed in the case of Karen Britt just as it is followed for other tenure candidates.”

Britt was employed by the university from July 1, 2003 through June 30, 2011, leaving after her tenure was denied. In January 2012, she filed an official complaint with the Franklin County Circuit Court that names U of L, the Provost and the honorable Jack Conway, attorney general.

A website, www.uoflabuseoffaculty.com, has been created with the full complaint and list of grievances available, along with many other documents pertaining to the issue.

The popular college website www.ratemyprofessor.com has Britt rated a four out of five in overall quality, earning a 12:5 ratio of good comments to bad.

One comment reads, “I love Karen Britt. She is extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about art history and it rubs off in class. She will answer any question you have and try her best to help you understand… I would take every class of hers if I could!” Another comment says, “This professor is awful! She is ridiculously hard and doesn’t really tell students what she is looking for… Avoid her if you don’t want to wreck your GPA.”

Willihnganz said of Britt in a May 4, 2011 letter to the Grievance Committee Hearing Panel, “While there is no doubt that Dr. Britt is an excellent teacher and colleague, she has not demonstrated proficiency in the area of research.”

According to university documents, a lack of creativity and research, part of the requirements to achieve tenure, are cited to be the main reasons behind Britt’s rejection. According to the letter from Willihnganz, Britt had not met the criteria for published works during her time at U of L. Britt claims in her complaint that this was because of excessive workload given to her by her department. After a lengthy grievance hearing over the issue, the former professor left the university.

According to her attorney, Al Priddy, Britt is currently doing field research in the Middle East.

“At this point, it is very difficult to know what the future holds,” said Britt in an e-mail provided by Priddy. “What has happened to me has been both heartbreaking and very damaging.”

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Photo courtesy insidehigherd.com

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