Gallaudet University’s chief diversity officer was placed on paid leave on Wednesday after school officials learned that she signed a petition challenging a new same-sex marriage law in Maryland.
Angela McCaskill, who has worked for more than 20 years at the university for the deaf and hard of hearing, was among more than 200,000 Maryland residents to sign a petition seeking a referendum vote on the measure. The petition succeeded, and enactment of the law was put on hold pending the outcome of the referendum in November.
On Wednesday, Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz said he had placed McCaskill on administrative leave.
“It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer; however, other individuals feel differently,” Hurwitz said in a statement released to the news media. “I will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps.”
A man who answered the phone at McCaskill’s home Wednesday evening said she was not available for comment. An e-mail to McCaskill’s work address generated an out-of-office message.
McCaskill’s signature became public when the Washington Blade obtained a copy of the petition and posted it online. Students and faculty on campus learned of McCaskill's signature through Planet Deaf Queer, an online resource center for deaf gay people.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed the same-sex marriage law in March, but opponents gathered enough signatures to force a public vote. Recent public polling has shown Marylanders favoring the law by a modest margin.
The petition was organized by the Maryland Marriage Alliance. The group’s chairman, Derek McCoy, criticized the university for suspending McCaskill.
“It was well within her rights to sign the petition,” McCoy said in a statement Wednesday evening. “McCaskill’s decision to sign the petition does not automatically declare her support for or against same-sex marriage. It merely indicates that she wants to see the decision made by the people and not the legislature.”
McCaskill was the first deaf African American woman to earn a PhD at Gallaudet, according to her university biography. In January 2011, McCaskill was named the associate provost of diversity and inclusion. In October of that year, she helped to open a resource center on campus for sexual minorities, according to Gallaudet’s Web site.
At a campus meeting in February 2011, McCaskill said that her job was to work with various groups on campus to set “the diversity agenda,” according to a video posted online by the university. At the same meeting, Hurwitz said: “Most of us know her as a cherished colleague and friend. We also know her as a longtime devoted advocate of social justice and equity causes.”
John Wagner contributed to this report.