Queer Professor “Fired”; Anderson University defends the traditional view

Current and former Anderson University students gathered Sunday morning to show their support for a professor who says she lost her job last week because of her sexual orientation.

About 20 people stood in front of the university’s metal arch on Boulevard in Anderson, holding signs and waving flags in support of the LGBTQ+ community and former theater professor Miranda Barnett.

In a video posted to Instagram on Wednesday, Barnett said her contract as a part-time professor at Anderson University was not renewed for the fall semester because she is queer.

A spokesman for Anderson University declined to discuss Barnett’s employment with the university. The spokesman said employment matters are private and contracts with faculty are awarded on a semester-to-semester basis.

But the spokesman also sent a written statement to the Independent Mail, which said, in part, “Anderson University is a private Christian university that maintains the traditional South Carolina Baptist view of sex and marriage as set forth in the scriptures is, maintained.”

Anderson University protest calls for transparency and LGBTQ+ resources

On Thursday morning, within a day of Barnett’s video taking to social media, Anderson University student Cary Doyle organized his first protest.

The theater alumni group is tight-knit, he said, and support for Barnett was already pouring in when he started a Facebook event, Anderson University LGBTQ+ Rights Protest.

The protesters wanted to stay on campus for eight hours and wave at motorists who had to slow down at a large crosswalk.

Some drove slower than necessary to read protesters’ placards on Sunday morning and occasionally honked their horns.

Barnett, a native of Greenville, won the 2019-20 Anderson University Award for Excellence in Teaching for part-time faculty members. Nominations were submitted by students and faculty, and the recipient was selected by a student and faculty committee, according to the university’s website.

In addition to helping with the academics, Barnett has provided all of the students with a safe room on campus, Doyle said, and they want to know why their contract wasn’t renewed.

In a letter to university officials, protest organizers called for transparency on Barnett’s resignation, “cultural competence” for department heads, an LGBTQ+ staff resource group and the formation of an LGBTQ+ Anderson Alumni Council.

They also demanded that the university “commit to not firing or disciplining faculty, staff or students on the basis of sexuality and gender identity.”

Miranda Barnett says Anderson University students deserve better

Barnett, who began teaching at AU in the fall of 2018, said she was overwhelmed by the presence of friends, alumni and strangers who came out to support her Sunday.

Whether or not the protest changes her employment status at Anderson University is not her primary concern, she said.

“Anderson University students deserve better,” Barnett said. “There are a lot of queer students on this campus, and a lot of them don’t have a choice to be here. At least they should feel safe. But on a Christian campus, they should feel loved. And a lot of them they’re feeling betrayed, hurt and scared right now. And that has to change.”

Former Anderson University professor Miranda Barnett, second from right, stands alongside protesters Sunday morning after her contracts for the fall semester were not renewed.

University officials brought snacks and bottled water to the protesters and had a steady stream of campus security officers patrolling the area.

As a private institution, Anderson University is exempt from Title IX protections for sex discrimination.

“The theater department in particular has been built up at the expense of LGBTQ+ students for years, and firing a professor because of his queerness is a slap in the face to all queer students and alumni,” said Savvy Thompson, 2020 drama graduate. “These students deserve it to have safe spaces where members of their community are not actively oppressed.”

The private Christian university maintains the traditional SC Baptist view of sexuality

Anderson University spokesman Andrew Beckner declined to specifically address Barnett’s employment, but sent the following statement to the Independent Mail:

“Anderson University is a private Christian university that upholds the traditional South Carolina Baptist view of sex and marriage as set forth in the Scriptures, their denominational relationship, and the ways in which their conduct can affect that relationship .In doing so, faculty members must respect and not undermine the creed of the university.

“As such, faculty members who are unable or unwilling to adhere to this policy and our creed should not teach. Anderson University’s ability to be a distinctive, faith-based institution is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. If Christian universities were not allowed to uphold deeply rooted religious beliefs in setting expectations of behavior, private, faith-based universities would be indistinguishable from public universities. We exist to give faculty, staff and students choice.

– Sarah Sheridan is the community reporter in Anderson. She would appreciate your help in telling important stories; reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @saralinasher.

Comments are closed.