A nuclear engineering professor is suing the Board of Trustees and two male professors in the School of Nuclear Engineering on allegations that she was denied tenure because she is not Asian nor male, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.
Dr. Tatyana Sizyuk began work at Purdue as a research scientist around 2007, and in 2014 became a professor on track for tenure, court documents state. Sizyuk alleges that her application for tenure was denied in October 2019 because she is a woman, and because she is not Asian. The professor is white and was born in Belarus.
The two defendants in the potential violation of Title XII of the Civil Rights Act are both Asian men. Dr. Seungjin Kim heads the department of nuclear engineering and Dr. Mamoru Ishii is a tenured professor who has “yielded substantial influence and power over the Nuclear Engineering Primary Tenure Committee,” the lawsuit states.
Sizyuk and several colleagues submitted a complaint in January 2019 that accused the department’s leadership of discrimination and bias. The complaint prompted a survey sent to nuclear engineering faculty that revealed “the lowest rated working atmosphere in the history of the School of Nuclear Engineering,” according to the documents.
The University promised meetings with each faculty member to address remedies to the allegedly dismal rating, but Sizyuk says administrators never met with her. Moreover, the lawsuit charges that the results of the survey were not widely shared among faculty until December, two months after Sizyuk was denied tenure.
Purdue responded to Sizyuk with its rationale for rejection only after she filed a charge through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an appeal within the School of Nuclear Engineering and a public records request, according to the lawsuit. The University’s reasoning for rejecting her was Sizyuk had “failed to emerge fully from her former adviser’s research group.”
According to policies listed on the provost’s website made effective in 2017, tenure is granted at Purdue based on three categories: discovery, learning and engagement. To be accepted, applicants must meet minimum thresholds of achievement in each area and have “demonstrated excellence and scholarly productivity” in at least one category.
The department head rated Sizyuk as “Very Good” for discovery, “Excellent” under learning and “Satisfactory” for engagement, the lawsuit states. Sizyuk says her apparent failure to emerge from the research group was never discussed during deliberations that ended in tenure being denied to her.
“Purdue has openly treated Asian men ... more favorably in spite of lesser qualifications,” the lawsuit alleges. “In many areas Dr. Sizyuk is more qualified than similarly situated Asians and/or men who have already been granted tenure.”
Sizyuk’s lawsuit lists five other white or female faculty members who have been denied tenure, allegedly in spite of adequate qualifications, since Kim became department head in 2017. She attributes the alleged issue to a vast majority of decision-makers on the NEPTC being Asian men.
Ishii, who heavily influences the NEPTC, has allegedly said women are “stupid” and white people are “lazy” and “stupid,” according to the documents. Sizyuk alleges Kim has been complicit in a work environment hostile toward women and non-Asian people.
Ishii on Tuesday declined to comment on the accusations and said the decision to deny Sizyuk tenure was agreed upon by faculty.
The professor is suing for Purdue to grant her tenure and pay her lost wages and benefits, along with damages for emotional pain and suffering. Further denial, Sizyuk says, would lead to loss of job security, loss of income and “results in Dr. Sizyuk’s employment ending with Purdue after the spring semester of 2021.”