Page 3 of 4
Peter TenPas, an associate professor in the mechanical engineering department, says he was "astonished, just dumbfounded" when Romkes was denied.
"When you look at the body of his work, he's a more highly qualified teacher; his publishing record is way above everyone else that we've recently tenured in the department," says TenPas, who has worked closely with Romkes for the last five years. "He worked diligently to obtain funding with federal agencies as part of our team."
"In my opinion, that's a hokey rule," Barrett-Gonzalez says. "The reason is essentially twofold. One is that it's never been applied to anyone else in the history of the university. That's just asinine, if you ask me. And the second one is that two years ago, we had another professor go up from associate to full professor in the School of Engineering who was not a P-I on any other projects. So, to me, it seems like a double standard."
Because Bell ignored his colleagues' recommendations and invoked a rule that neither was on the books when Romkes was hired nor approved by the appropriate university committee, many connected with the school wonder if Romkes' personal life was more of a factor than his funding record.
Romkes says he has met with Bell only twice: once during the interview process (he says he didn't out himself to Bell during his interview process, although his colleagues have known since he started at KU that he's gay), and later when Bell told him that he was not supporting his tenure bid. This leads Romkes to believe that Bell was motivated by "something nonprofessional." Romkes says he has been with his partner, civil engineer Matt Murphy, for 10 years, and adds that he has never experienced intolerance; his only complaint is awkward social situations.
"I've gotten used to it because I am the only one that brings their same-sex partner to these functions," Romkes says. "Is that intolerance? No, not really."
Barrett-Gonzalez, who has tenure, is a little more blunt: "I believe that the dean, who was the principal administrator who made the decision, has allowed his own personal inclinations and personal prejudices to cloud his professional judgment."
Several professors and former students have formed a support team called KU Alumni for Romkes, which has sent pamphlets to media outlets titled "KU: A Straight Place to Be."
"It is beyond suspicious that professor Romkes is also the first and only openly gay faculty member ever to have served in KU's School of Engineering," one mailer reads. "There are so many apparent irregularities and violations of rules, that one can only conclude that the checks and balances of KU's promotion, tenure and redress processes are fundamentally broken."
Jess denies that discrimination played any role in Romkes' review: "As is clear from Assistant Professor Romkes' court filings, the department chair, dean, University Promotion & Tenure Committee and provost all recommended against tenure because his research record did not meet the university's standard. There are no allegations of discrimination in Romkes' court filings because the university does not discriminate."
In an e-mailed statement, Bell recited almost verbatim the university's position that Romkes was not discriminated against. Bell also wrote that obtaining funding is as important for faculty members as for students.
"It is worth noting that engineering programs at research universities across the nation place great emphasis on research including the ability of faculty members to secure significant research funding," Bell wrote. "This funding helps ensure that our students are taught the latest concepts and are taught by faculty who are at the leading edge of their respective fields, both now and into the future. It is how we attract and support top graduate students. It is how we drive innovation and discovery, and enable our undergraduate students to learn from and conduct research with leading scholars."