In a public letter, CU Boulder students and faculty allege hostile work environment for women of color professors

On campus at the University of Colorado Boulder. Sept. 8, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
On campus at the University of Colorado Boulder. Sept. 8, 2021.

A document that began floating online in late September alleges that four women of color professors at CU Boulder’s School of Education experienced a hostile work environment because of their race; the school’s dean stepped down in response just a week later.

The circulated document has not gone unnoticed by a university spokesperson, who in an email requesting comment on the matter late Friday acknowledged that the school has work to do on improving the climate for its faculty of color.

The 48-page document – written by two graduate students and signed by pages of supporters – is described as a “Shadow Report of the hostile racial climate and relations” at the university. It reads in part: 

“We bore witness and were made privy to countless examples of institutional disrespect and disregard against the Women of Color faculty in both formal and informal settings, which include but are not limited to public attacks on their personhood and their scholarship; installments of surveillance disguised as protection; harassment, bullying, and gossiping by students, faculty, and staff [and] downplaying of their achievements and their deep-set commitments to their students.” 

According to the letter, in 2020, there were seven tenure line assistant professors of color (TLAFoC) at the School of Education – three of whom were men – but by the summer of 2023 only those two men remained; another had been on leave.

A week after the document began circulating online, Kathy Schultz, dean of the department, said in a Sept. 28 press release that she was stepping down from that role at the end of 2023, but would remain a part of the faculty, “citing the need to help the school move past recent challenges related to the departure of four women of color from its faculty.”

“My academic career has been centered on my strong commitment to diversity, equity and justice,” Schultz said in the press release. “I deeply respect and care for this community, and I believe the School of Education needs to move into the future with a new leader. I will continue to support the work of our school as a member of the faculty,” she continued.

The letter did not include the names of the four faculty members, but a user on the social media platform, X, claimed to be one of the four women professors who left the CU Boulder School of Education this summer, and thanked the writers for giving the women a voice. The CV linked to the user’s page lists them as having worked from 2020 until 2023 as Assistant Professor of Equity, Diversity and Justice in Education at CU Boulder School of Education. 

Nicole Mueksch, assistant director of communications and spokesperson for CU Boulder, said in an email to CPR News: “First, CU-Boulder appreciates the work that these graduate students have done through this report to call out the challenges around anti-racism at our university,” adding, “We understand there is still much work to be done to eliminate systemic barriers to the academic, research and career success of individuals from historically minoritized groups on our campus. CU Boulder continues to support initiatives that promote greater collaboration across the campus to eliminate these barriers and better promote true inclusivity on campus.”

Solidarity statements are included in the initial report, which will serve as a living document of support for the faculty members.