Angela McCaskill, the chief diversity officer for Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., was placed on paid leave after it was revealed that she signed a petition to place the marriage equality law on the ballot in Maryland.
Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz announced the move Wednesday in a statement, according to WJLA-TV. He said that she “participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate” for someone in her role. The legislature passed the marriage equality law earlier this year, but opponents gathered enough signatures to trigger the referendum, known as Question 6, which voters will decide next month.
"I want to inform the community that I have placed Dr. Angela McCaskill on paid administrative leave effective immediately,” he said. “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. 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. In the meantime an interim Chief Diversity Officer will be announced in the near future."
A faculty member filed an official complaint against McCaskill and a meeting was held with President Hurwitz last week, according to Planet DeafQueer. The blog added that sources said McCaskill had been an “ardent supporter of Gallaudet’s LGBTQA Resource Center.”
“A Gallaudet faculty member, who at this time wishes to remain anonymous, noticed Dr. McCaskill’s name, address and signature on the anti-gay marriage petition and inquired about it,” reported Planet DeafQueer. “When confronted by the faculty member, Dr. McCaskill confirmed that she had in fact signed the petition and explained that she had done so while at church, after her preacher had preached against gay marriage. As she was leaving, her husband pointed to the petition and she signed it without giving it further thought.”
The blog added that McCaskill is “expected to issue a public apology,” but according to BuzzFeed, which spoke with a man who identified himself as McCaskill’s husband, she had no comment and “would be consulting with a lawyer.” A Gallaudet spokeswoman said the university has no policy against political participation.
Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the coalition working to uphold the marriage equality law, issued a statement that called for McCaskill to be reinstated and defended her right to free speech.
"We strongly disagree with the decision to put the chief diversity officer on leave and hope she is reinstated immediately,” said campaign manager Josh Levin. “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."
A biography on the university’s website says that MacCaskill has worked at the school for 23 years, and was the first African-American woman to obtain a Ph.D. from the institution. She was appointed deputy to the president and associate provost of diversity and inclusion in 2011.
Gallaudet is the nation’s leading university for the deaf and hard of hearing.