In the California Community College system, as in most other places in American higher education, it isn't easy to fire a professor with tenure. There are only a handful of justifications for doing so: a felony conviction is one, and "abandonment" is another. In my thirteen years of teaching here at PCC, the last eight as a tenured instructor, I haven't seen any of my colleagues dismissed. Until now.
I don't know most of my fellow professors in other departments on campus. I certainly didn't know Yves Magloe, a professor who taught in the languages division for several years -- the last few with tenure. Last fall, Magloe (who suffers from bipolar disorder) experienced a severe episode of depression. According to our campus paper:
In November 2005, Magloe, an ESL instructor, who takes medication to manage a bipolar condition, suffered a manic episode. "I lost control and it was part of the pathology," said Magloe "When I lost control I stopped taking my medication, and that made things worse."
"I was sick and that is all there is to it," said Magloe, who was hospitalized for little less than a month. "People get ill and the [administration] has been unsympathetic."
As a full time faculty member, Magloe needed to report to human resources that he would be taking personal time off. He went to human resources in 2005 before the end of the fall semester and filled out some of the necessary paper work, which he did not complete. When Magloe took time off human resources then took it as "abandonment."
"He fell through the cracks," said associate professor of English Brock Klein. "I tried to talk to him, but due to his mental health he was not able to make any type of difficult decisions."
The college isn't commenting, but the union and the faculty are up in arms. I would have been up in arms, but such is the provincialism of this department that I only learned of what had happened to Professor Magloe when I read the campus newspaper last week.
I make no secret of the fact that I've had some serious troubles of my own. In my first four years at PCC, I was hospitalized three times. Without getting into specific details, I was struggling with both mental illness and addiction; on two occasions those struggles almost cost me my life. Twice I was hospitalized for an extended period in a private locked mental hospital; it was in the last of these places that I experienced the spiritual epiphany that I touched on last Thursday.
What made me different from Yves Magloe was not the severity of my condition or the length of my hospitalization (though part of two of my hospitalizations took place during summer vacations). What made me different was that friends of mine were able to notify my division dean and others about my problem. As a result, extended leave was requested on my behalf. Magloe apparently did not have anyone available to do that for him. Today, I am still tenured and teaching happily -- and years removed from the time when I wrestled with demons. Magloe, on the other hand, is facing poverty, about to have his medical benefits cut off.
I don't see myself as a crusader for mental health issues, but every once in a while, when something like this happens, I am reminded of how tragic our continued societal double standard is. If Magloe had missed class with heart trouble, and been unable to contact his department, he would not have been terminated. If he had been struggling against cancer, or injured in a car crash, no one would have considered him to have "abandoned" his post. But where mental illness is concerned, a powerful misunderstanding remains. Someone suffering from bipolar disorder (or other similar problems) is judged accountable for his missed time in a way that someone suffering from a more obvious physiological injury is not. I don't know the law well enough to know if it's illegal to do what our Human Resources department has done, but it sure as hell is immoral! And it sends a terrible message to those folks in the community who are battling -- or who have loved ones who are battling -- the very serious problem of mental illness.
You can email the college president, James Kossler, here.
You can email the head of human resources, Jorge Aguiniga, here.
Contact the board of trustees by going here.