Religious university reinstates trans professor

by on September 13, 2008  •  In Employment law, Religion, Transgender

The Jewish Advocate

By Vladimir Shvorin

At Yeshiva University in New York City, the battle over the status of Joy Ladin, a tenured English professor … who recently underwent gender alteration, has culminated in an unofficial reinstatement. But as Ladin reassumed her duties this week, some questioned the university's decision.

"I think [interpreting Yeshiva's decision] depends on how Yeshiva University sees itself," said Haredi Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America. "If Yeshiva sees itself as just another university with a Jewish tinge to it, then they are acting appropriately. But if the word yeshiva is meaningfully put before the word university, then this is something that is unacceptable from a Jewish standpoint."

Before Jay Ladin became Joy Ladin, the distinguished professor, author, poet and Fulbright Scholar was granted tenure by [Yeshiva] in the spring of 2007. Less than two weeks later, Ladin told the university of his plan to become a woman and was reportedly placed on an indefinite research leave.

When Ladin returned to the school this fall with a letter from her lawyer seeking reinstatement, the university made the decision to bring her back. She will teach one day each week this semester and will return to a two-class schedule in the spring….

"This is a personnel matter of a tenured faculty person and we do not comment on that," said a spokesperson for the school.

Dr. Jillian T. Weiss, associate professor of law and society at Ramapo College in New Jersey and a Yeshiva alumna, is a specialist in transgender issues in the workplace. Weiss also went through a gender change herself. She believes that Yeshiva University would have been unable to uphold any suspension of Ladin in court.

"First of all, New York City has a law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity," Weiss explained. "N.Y. State doesn't, but they do prohibit firing based on gender issues that pertain to sexual orientation. Had Yeshiva University fired her and she was able to prove that this was because of her gender identity, referring to her transformation from male to female, she would have received damages – possibly punitive – for discrimination."

A similar case occurred last year at Spring Arbor University, a Christian institution in Michigan. Transgender professor Julie Nemecek (formerly John Nemecek) was fired by the administration and responded by filing a sexual discrimination complaint. The parties agreed on a settlement out of court.

Still, some members of Yeshiva's faculty are stepping forward to comment on the matter. Rabbi Moshe Tendler, professor of Jewish medical ethics and biology at Yeshiva University, has voiced his displeasure with the situation and his opposition to a transgender person teaching at the institution.

"There is an eerie silence in the school; nobody wants to talk about this," Tendler said. "[Ladin] was granted tenure and then did what he wanted to do. After the tenure was given, he announced that he was a transgender. Certainly, that's unethical behavior on his part. He knew very well it would be a problem for the school to employ a transsexual."
While Ladin's decision to undergo a gender transition was a personal one, Shafran believes that there may be consequences for her students as well.

"I don't think the gender confusion will affect the expertise of the teacher, but teaching involves a relationship between the teacher and students," said Shafran. "A student with a Jewish worldview will not be able to relate well to a teacher with an appearance that runs counter to that worldview."

Tendler echoed concern for the students. "[Ladin's] interaction with the student body and the message [she] delivers favors a liberal leftist view of autonomy," he said. "I hope the students have a different view."

Still, some see Ladin as a positive influence in the classroom. Hillel Broder first met Ladin two years ago while helping the professor research a book. He is now employed by the university as an English teacher at the Yeshiva University High School for Boys and has become a strong supporter of his colleague.

"I think she is an incredible, positive force in the classroom," Broder said. "She is a pillar of strength for those around her."


HT: Gay South Florida


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