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Female faculty at UMD speak out about the ‘hostile’ work environment in math and stats department

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DULUTH, MN-- Growing up in a family of UMD educators, it was always a dream for Kristine Snyder to follow in their footsteps and teach at the university.

"I've been a UMD kid my entire life," said Snyder.

In 2015 that dream became a reality when she became an Assistant Professor in the Mathematics and Statistics Department.

But Snyder, who at the time taught under her maiden name of Falk, quickly watched her dream fade due to what she described as deeply rooted sexism and misogyny within the department.

During her three years at UMD, Snyder claims she was consistently harassed and degraded by her tenured male co-workers.

"At the time, for a lot of this stuff, I just blamed myself. I'm like, "oh, I must not be working hard enough, I must just need to put in more hours, I must just need to do more, said Snyder. "The reality is it does not matter if you do more if it's not listened to, if it's not respected, and if it's not being taken into consideration."

Despite what she called her attempts at creating change, she ultimately decided to put her dream aside and leave UMD in 2018.

"It was heartbreaking. I didn't think we would ever leave Duluth. I spent half my life working to go home, and then I couldn't stay," said Snyder.

Snyder's resignation then prompted others in the department to come forward with their stories, citing similar allegations of hostility.

Eventually, the University's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) launched an investigation in 2019.

The investigation found the department's gendered attitudes and practices contributed to a hostile and offensive climate that violates university policy.

But some female faculty we spoke with say almost two years later, they still have not seen any change come to light.

"I think some of the men in the department see this as a bit of a game," said Snyder.

Dr. Tracy Bibelnieks, Associate Professor in the math and stats department, said on March 24 she would resign from her position this spring after seven years.

In her resignation letter, she refers to what she called quote a complete and utter disregard for accountability and responsive action by the university following the 2019 report.

"I have seen no evidence of any kind that the culture or the environment has changed, said Dr. Bibelnieks. "I have suffered harm to my family, to my personal life, to my professional career, and I can't do it anymore."

Dr. Bibelnieks resignation encouraged others to come forward with their stories.

One woman submitted an anonymous statement commenting on the lasting damage from the harassment.

"This situation continues to cause lasting damage to my professional and personal life. Since Sept. 2019, when the EOAA report was released, I have observed no change in the climate of the UMD Math/Stats department. I continue to report hostile and offensive incidents" - Female faculty member, UMD Mathematics and Statistics Dept

Snyder hopes no other women have to feel this way.

"I would be shocked if more women don't leave," said Snyder.

More than just faculty have been impacted.

UMD senior Kari Olson says she's concerned for her education and formed a club aiming to hold the university accountable.

"I challenge the university to go farther and evaluate this progress," said Olson. "There are metrics to evaluate climate. Let's get some data, let's evaluate, let's listen to the women that work for us, and let's make sweeping reform. Real change."

According to the EOAA report, male faculty that have received complaints have received disciplinary action but are still affiliated with the university.

On March 29, UMD Chancellor Lendley Black sent a letter to the department calling the EOAA findings unacceptable and spelling out how they plan to change the department's climate.

In the letter, he outlined things ranging from changes to the department constitution, additional faculty training, and the addition of an outside consultant who will be meeting monthly with the department starting this spring.

In the letter, Chancellor Black acknowledged the pain suffered by female faculty.

"No update can solve the pain associated with bias in the workplace. But we can tell you that you have our commitment to engage with you and assure you that your voices have been heard," said Chancellor Black.

To learn more about the EOAA report, click here.

Natalie Grant

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