Professor claims her social justice advocacy led to her non-renewal
Students, staff and community members at the University of Connecticut are
demanding answers about the non-renewal of Professor Heather Turcotte’s
“While I only had her as a professor for my final semester of college she
quickly proved to be one of the most devoted professors to what they taught both in
the classroom as well as outside. She was extremely professional and organized as a
professor. There was no moment during the semester where I thought she could be
considered unqualified by anyone for her position,” said David Levine, a 2014
Turcotte, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and Women’s
Gender and Sexuality Studies program is a well known advocate for Students
Against Sexual Assault and was notified of her termination in early May after being
recommended for dismissal in November 2013.
The recommendation for Turcotte’s non-renewl followed shortly after seven
students filed a Title IX and Office of Civil Rights complaint against UConn for
inadequately responding to sexual assault. Turcotte was an outspoken advocate on
their behalf and the greater UConn community, publicly criticizing President
Herbst’s policies both when on campus and on The Feminist Wire.
“I have been notified of termination and I will be leaving the university,”
Turcotte told Humans of UConn, a popular community Facebook page. “I believe this
is retaliation for social justice work and advocating for students, and constantly
calling upon administration and my colleagues to do something about the daily
practice of violence on campus.”
Turcotte’s picture received over 670 likes, over 100 shares and several
supportive comments. Turcotte later commented on the site: “This is wrong and
unfortunately this is not just happening to me, but is part of a systematic move
within academic institutions to silence critical though and those people who speak
truth to power – keep asking questions, keep demanding more of your communities,
and most definitely keep speaking truth to power because at the end of the day you
will be standing in life.”
The Daily Campus has been unable to reach Turcotte for a comment.
Although UConn may not discuss the tenure review process of individuals,
due to state law and terms of contractual agreements, university spokesperson
Stephanie Reitz said that the decision to not renew Turcotte, or any other
professor’s contract is “based solely upon the person’s productivity and
performance in all the required areas of research, teaching, and service.”
Similarly, Women Gender and Sexuality Studies Department Head Nancy
Naples released a statement last fall that denied Turcotte was being recommended
for dismissal due to her activism.
“WGSS, like all other academic units, make faculty and instructor hiring and
reappointment decisions based solely upon the individual’s productivity and
performance with respect to research, teaching and service,” Naples said. “I can
confidently assert again that no one in WGSS has been wrongly terminated due to
signing of a petition or for any other political activities.”
Decisions to dismiss a faculty member begin in September and continue into
the spring and are thoroughly assessed by a hierarchy of personnel. The cases are
reviewed by a departmental committee, the faculty member’s department head, the
dean’s council, the dean, the Provost’s Office and the Provost before a
recommendation is submitted to the Board of Trustees for final approval.
Naples was uninvolved in the process and unaware of the final outcome of
Turcotte’s case for reappointment when asked for a comment in May.
“Personnel decisions in academia are complex with several levels of review
and cannot really be described in terms of a single ‘incident’,” Naples said. “What I
can say is that I know Heather is a terrific teacher and mentor.”
Turcotte won the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center’s Faculty
of the Year and the University of Connecticut American Association of University
Professors’ Early Career Teaching Excellence Award last year.
Many of Turcotte’s former students have come to her defense, including
Danielle Rose, a 2013 UConn graduate.
“Professor Turcotte was the best professor I had at UConn, she made us think
for ourselves and encouraged us to have our own opinions and to fight for what we
believe,” Rose said. “While I can’t speak to her research, her class was the highest
quality class I attended at UConn.”
Rose said that she could not imagine why Turcotte would be terminated and
what reason the university would have to non-renew her contract based on
“The claim that her termination was due to her lack of quality is ludicrous to
me,” said Rose.
While UConn cannot legally disclose the details of the decision to dismiss
Turcotte, Reitz said, to clarify the situation, that Turcotte’s contract was non-
renewed which is not the same as being fired.
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