COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A tenured professor at Ohio State University, who has the backing of dozens of other faculty members, is fighting to get her job back.
Dr. Angela Bryant is at the center of a case unfolding at the university that seeks to answer whether a person experiencing a psychotic break can be held responsible for their actions — and could test the state’s employment and disability laws.
The university said that in a profanity-laced email, Bryant announced her resignation from the university to the head of the Department of Sociology at OSU Newark, but the sociology professor said she has no recollection of hitting send.
“I honestly don’t have any memory actually of sending that email,” Bryant said. “If you read it, it reads to me not as a resignation but a cry for help.”
Following what she said was weeks of escalating emotional trauma, concern from co-workers and family members, and admission to a mental hospital on Ohio State’s campus, Bryant was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and stabilized.
A social worker trying to help Bryant secure family leave from her job was reportedly told that Bryant had already resigned.
“He is the one who actually got me permission to even email to rescind that email and let them know that was the result of my mental health crisis,” Bryant said.
But Bryant said that the university told her there was no going back, and her resignation was final — a move that Bryant called ironic after being treated for a medical crisis at the university’s hospital.
After presenting her case before the university’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility, the group found Bryant’s claims to be credible and recommended her reinstatement.
A committee of the University Senate, the governing body for Ohio State faculty members, also commented on the university’s refusal to restore her job.
“Over the course of our investigation, we could find no evidence of any administrator from the Ohio State University asking Dr. Bryant the simple question, ‘Are you okay?’ In a university that has dedicated itself to the health and well-being of students, staff, and faculty members, we find this to be an egregious failing,” a panel of the Faculty Hearing Committee, a standing committee of the University Senate, said in a statement.
Bryant said the university never supported her during her crisis.
“They knew exactly what was happening every step of the way and they didn’t advocate for me,” she said. “They actually used it as an excuse to get rid of me.”
In a report addressed to President Kristina M. Johnson and Provost Melissa Gilliam, the Faculty Hearing Committee panel urged the university to reinstate Bryant, to which leadership responded that the panel did not have “complete and accurate information” about the case.
“As you know, personnel issues can be complex and it is difficult for you to discern the full picture of a particular situation without complete and accurate information. We cannot provide the full details of this situation or discuss the specifics of a former faculty member’s employment with members of this committee,” Johnson and Gilliam said.
Bryant said she had a history of excellent performance reviews, and three dozen colleagues signed a letter in support of her reinstatement.
“I got along with my colleagues. I had, just like I said, gotten a grant from the Ohio State University itself and so the only thing I can come up with is they made a huge mistake because they were basically using it as an excuse to get rid of me — that scare, that stigma around mental health issues, even though we know bipolar is treatable, and I am in treatment,” she said.
Because of what happened to her, Bryant fears that others in mental health crises will be afraid to do what she did: seek help and come forward.
“The reality is, there is still a lot of stigma around mental health issues, and they are medical issues,” she said. “There is no difference between someone like me being diagnosed with bipolar disorder as somebody who has Type 1 diabetes. I had issues with medication and my treatment — that also can happen when you have diabetes.”
Ohio State University released the following statement when asked to comment about Bryant’s case:
Ohio State is committed to supporting the health and well being of our faculty, staff and students. While the university takes individual privacy concerns seriously and cannot comment further on this specific case, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission has affirmed Ohio State’s handling of this sensitive employment matter.
University Senate brings together students, faculty, staff and administrators to share in governance of the university. Like any such body, the senate and its committees have established rules and bylaws regarding the topics within their purview, and the senate regularly reviews the work of its committees to ensure they are operating in accordance with those rules and bylaws.
Ohio State offers assistance and support to employees with short and long term disabilities, and the university is fully committed to providing equal opportunities to all employees. Individuals in need of a disability accommodation should speak with their supervisor or the integrated absence management team in human resources. The Office of Human Resources routinely assists employees with workplace accommodations, family and medical leave, short-term and long-term disability, and other services and supports. In recent years, the university has also streamlined its oversight and administration of these important programs and policies. Individuals with concerns about an accommodation are urged to contact the Office of Institutional Equity, which provides oversight of disability services and investigates all allegations of discrimination.