Discrimination Against and Humiliation of a Student – who happens to be female and a new mom

The short version: a female student in a 3rd-year veterinary program gave birth near the beginning of the semester.  In response, this old white male professor, Edward Feldman DVM, Chair of the Department of Medicine & Epidemiology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, decided to NOT discuss how this student would balance her new personal responsibilities with her personal obligations as a student.  Instead, he thought it would be fun to out and out discriminate against her by humiliating her in front of her peers and insinuating that she was definitely not going to do as much work as them.

From Science Blogs and the awesome Isis, who broke this story, an email was sent to the entire class asking them to participate in an online poll that would determine how she was graded that semester:

Dear Colleagues,

One of our classmates recently gave birth and will be out of class for an unknown period of time. This means she will undoubtedly miss one, or more, or all quizzes in VMD 444.  Dr. Feldman is not sure how to handle this and has requested the class give input and vote.  He has provided us with 6 options on which to vote and is open to any other ideas you may have.  Most likely a CERE poll will be up next week and a voting will close no later than Wednesday.  If you have other suggestions please email them to Dan or I ASAP. We will alert you to the opening of voting. Below are listed the options that Dr. Feldman has suggested. Please reserve comment on these options and provide us your opinion on them by voting when the time comes.  Thank you for your understanding in this matter.

a) automatic A final grade
b) automatic B final grade
c) automatic C final grade
d) graded the same as everyone else: best 6 quiz scores out of a possible 7 quiz scores (each quiz only given only once in class with no repeats)
e) just take a % of quiz scores (for example: your classmate takes 4 quizzes, averages 9/10 points = 90% = A)
f) give that student a single final exam at the end of the quarter (however this option is only available to this one student, all others are graded on the best 6 quiz scores and the % that results)

Please let us know if you have other thoughts on how to handle this situation and please keep your eye out for the upcoming vote.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Your Presidents

What Isis has to say about this:

First, it appears that there are policies in place at UC Davis that could have guided Dr. Feldman’s decision without involving his students.  According to the UC Davis website, a student with passing grades in a course may ask for a grade of “Incomplete” and finish at a later date.  The medical school has a very reasonable formal planned educational leave policy in place which allows students to suspend their studies and return a few weeks to one year later (although apparently this student asked for no additional time).

The other part of this that bothers me is that it is not the responsibility or privilege of students in a graduate program to determine the fate of their peers.  This is why there are graduate faculty and if Dr. Feldman was truly so baffled about what to do with this student, he should have turned to his peers or more senior university officials for guidance.  My heart breaks for this woman to have been shamed in front of her peers this way.  To have been presented as a problem that must be voted on and dealt with.  I can’t imagine what she must have felt like to know that her peers were given the option to assign her an ‘A’ or a ‘C’, depending on what they thought she deserved. How are her peers in any position to determine her performance in a course in which they have no expertise? […]

Truly, truly shameful, and this situation absolutely broke my heart. I believe that Dr. Feldman’s actions reflect a failure of the most senior leadership at UC Davis to educate their faculty in the treatment of pregnant students.  As such, I would ask something I rarely ask of you.  I ask that you write the chancellor at UC Davis, Linda P.B. Katehi (an online form is available here) and ask her office to further investigate Dr. Feldman’s actions.

Women should not be discriminated against, punished, or shamed for their decision to reproduce.  No matter how “intensive and lock-step” the curriculum is.

As someone who has taught a class at a university and who has been a teaching assistant in charge of grades multiple times, I can tell you that every single teacher no matter what level of education deals with contingencies all the time. Lots of students for lots of reasons miss class, turn assignments in late.  People’s parents die, their car breaks down, they literally can’t cope with school and need to take a break in the middle of the semester.  Sometimes they are lazy, sometimes they work their ass off but can’t always come to class because they have to go to their job that pays for their food and shelter and tuition.  I have NEVER heard of a professor asking the class to help determine how to grade a contingency case.  I would NEVER think to ask another student to make that decision.  And I would NEVER divulge to anyone what is going on personally with another student.

But see, here’s the thing.  That female student, while pregnant, can’t hide her decision to have a child, even if she knows (and NOW she KNOWS and every. single. female. veterinary student at UC Davis KNOWS) that the decision could harm her career aspirations or jeopardize her grade.  This is, of course, completely not an issue for a guy about to become a father.

If other students had a problem with the idea that she would receive some sort of preferential treatment, fuck them.  That’s not their business and it’s not the business of the professor to explain that to them.  And if they did think that she was about get anything handed to her because she had a baby, they were clearly, clearly, clearly mistaken.  And obviously know nothing about higher ed and ladies who choose to have babies (I have written before about my own experience being a female academic).

I’m so disgusted by this.


3 thoughts on “Discrimination Against and Humiliation of a Student – who happens to be female and a new mom

  1. I’m in shock. I’m disgusted, and I’m enraged.

    This is terrible. I’m really, really, tired of pregnant women, really women in general, but pregnant women in particular being the target of such ridiculous behavior.

  2. Here via Feministe.

    Thanks for talking about this. As a pre-vet student with an application pending at UC Davis, I find the whole matter incredibly disturbing. There’s a lot of factors at play here, the biggest being that the veterinary profession is undergoing a rapid shift from a male-dominated industry (with a cowboy-esque “man up” ethos) to an environment where the vast majority of new graduates are female. It’s unfortunate but not surprising that members of the “old guard” have a problem with that. I remember a male administrator at an open house for a different vet school telling us, a room full of almost exclusively female students, that we’d have to “time” our pregnancies. That was nothing, though, compared to what this poor woman went through.
    If I get an interview at UC Davis, I may have to jeopardize my chances with a few, ah, *pointed* questions.

  3. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Good luck with your interview process for school. And good luck with school. There has never been a formal talk where a department head or school administrator has told me or my peers that our pregnancies would have to be “timed” but that message was communicated often in private or in hushed conversations. It’s such bullshit that I am expected to create a life around a system made for and by men instead of people working to change the system to be more inclusive for all.

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