Angela McCaskill speaks out about Gallaudet dust-up

Angela McCaskill at a press conference Tuesday. (Photo: Mike Conneen)

In her first interview since controversy erupted at Gallaudet University, the school’s chief diversity officer who was placed on leave for signing a petition to put Maryland’s same sex marriage law on the November ballot says she's not anti-gay and feels bullied.

Angela McCaskill sat down exclusively with ABC7’s Mike Conneen at her home in Upper Marlboro to respond to criticism for inking the petition.

“Signing that petition is a right that I have as a citizen of the state of Maryland. It simply means that I want to see this very sensitive issue put on the ballot as a referendum in the state of Maryland,” McCaskill said.

Her attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, says McCaskill will not express her personal view on the matter. He says she will do that in the voting booth.

Gordon says McCaskill “is considering all options, and not ruling out taking legal action,” hoping to get reinstated at Gallaudet.

After learning of McCaskill’s signature on the petition – published by The Washington Blade – an anonymous faculty member filed an official complaint with the University. Now, McCaskill says she feels bullied and she wishes this conflict never happened.

“I feel bad for our students because they go to the university and they look to us for guidance and I feel that we have failed them,” she said. “It’s been very hurtful… because I have nothing but love and support for everyone. And to have this tarnishing my name, my reputation, my character, it hurts.”

Earlier Tuesday, Gallaudet University President Alan Hurwitz sent a message to the campus community, to "indicate forcefully" that the school would like to work with McCaskill to enable her to return from administrative leave and continue as chief diversity officer.

He wrote, "While I expect that a resolution of this matter can be reached... this will require that she and the university community work together to respond to the concerns that have been raised."

During a press conference Tuesday, McCaskill described the university as one of intolerance that manages by intimidation and bullying among faculty staff and students. She asked to be reinstated.

At her afternoon press conference, McCaskill said the anonymous faculty members who reported her petition signature to President Hurwitz were M.J. Bienvenu and Kendra Smith.

In response, the two faculty members said in a statement, “At this time, we would prefer this matter be a discussion between the University and Dr. Angela McCaskill.”

Gordon says Hurwitz’s statement today is a 180 degree turn from last week.

“We certainly want to give him a chance and explore his sincerity in the statement that he made to the public. But at the same time we are cautious about his intentions because he had a chance to do this some time ago,” Gordon said.

Hurwitz placed McCaskill on paid administrative leave last Wednesday and notified the campus community that afternoon.

“It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer; however, other individuals feel differently,” Hurwitz wrote in an email to students, faculty and staff. “I will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps taking into consideration the duties of this position at the university.”

Some supporters of same sex marriage in Maryland, including Governor Martin O’Malley, are calling for McCaskill to be reinstated. "Everyone has a right to their opinion, and everyone has a right to participate in the political process,” Gov. O’Malley said in a statement.

Josh Levin, the campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, also issued the following statement. "We strongly disagree with the decision to put the chief diversity officer on leave and hope she is reinstated immediately. Everyone is entitled to free speech and to their own opinion about Question 6, which is about treating everyone fairly and equally under the law."

The university won’t comment further, referring to the story as a personnel matter. However, in his email to the campus community last week, Hurwitz said he planned to hire an interim Diversity Chief while McCaskill’s situation is resolved.

McCaskill became a Deputy to the President and the Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion in January 2011. She was the first deaf, black woman to earn a doctorate at Gallaudet and she has worked for the school in various roles for 23 years.

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