Mike Brake | March 22, 2022
Discrimination lawsuit cites OSU dean’s aggressive anti-Trump views
A former academic dean at Oklahoma State University who is one of five targets of a lawsuit by an associate professor alleging political discrimination spent a good deal of time on social media blasting former President Donald Trump, Republicans, and conservatives in general, according to court filings in the case.
Dr. Stephan Wilson, who was then Dean of OSU’s College of Human Sciences, had a great deal to say about non-liberals online during a time when he was allegedly denying Dr. Whitney Bailey a promotion to full professor—a denial she claims was due to her Republican affiliation and brief service in the Trump administration.
Bailey has recently dismissed her lawsuit in the case, but the dismissal was without prejudice, meaning she may refile her suit within a year. Defendants in the suit in addition to Wilson are Sissy Osteen, Bailey’s department head; Jorge Atiles, an associate dean; Gary Sandefuer, OSU’s provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, and Jarrod Noftsger, Osteen’s assistant department dean. All but Noftsger have since left the university, but all will remain parties to the lawsuit if and when it is refiled.
Bailey alleged that she was up for promotion to full professor and had amassed the required service time, achievements, and recommendations when the five defendants, led by Wilson as the key decision maker, denied her promotion. When she returned to campus after a year’s service in Washington as a senior staff member of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, her teaching schedule was drastically curtailed, costing her some $20,000 in income.
The denied promotion came after Bailey was honored with various teaching awards, and after a faculty council voted 6-2 in support of her promotion. Unfortunately, those deciding her fate were all Democrats who, along with Wilson, had expressed disdain for Republicans in general and Trump in particular.
But according to a court filing in the case, Wilson was the most vocal and antagonistic, with social media posts made at the same time he was serving as an academic dean, activities that would have caused any faculty member or student under his jurisdiction to wonder if they could be treated fairly if their political views differed from his.
“Mexico,” Wilson posted on one occasion, “agrees to pay for Trump’s psychiatric care.”
“White people can see Big Foot, Loch Ness Monster, aliens, Jesus in toast . . . But can’t see a fascist dictator developing before their very eyes,” he said in another post quoted in the filing.
Wilson repeatedly called Trump a “racist” and compared him to Adolf Hitler. Trump, he said, would one day deem “minorities, including gays, the disabled, non-Christians and people of color as ‘inferior’” and send them “to death camps for slaughter.”
Wilson also noted that the trouble with democracy is that “everyone gets to vote.”
Wilson was also quoted as attacking Oklahoma Senators James Lankford and Jim Inhofe and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Trump was also depicted as a “tyrant” who would select drug kingpin El Chapo to run the DEA.
“Wilson publicly shared many of these aggressive opinions during the same time that he made critical employment decisions for” Bailey, the filing says.
Wilson was the most vocal, but he was not alone among those deciding Bailey’s fate, the filing says.
Atiles, Sandefur, and Osteen were also outspoken Trump critics, and Noftsger was quoted as saying that conservatives and their ideas are “why we can’t have nice things.”
The filing also noted that after Bailey filed a grievance over the denial of her promotion, a faculty committee of three members examined the entire process and reported that Osteen, Sandefur, and Wilson had “distressed, confused, and humiliated a valuable and productive faculty member.”
The process included “a documented and systemic failure to follow university policy,” the filing quoted the report, and included “Violation of explicit University Policy, disingenuous treatment of outside scholars, coercion of faculty to sign a waiver . . .”
OCPA filed an open records request for the committee report cited in the court filing but OSU’s open records office declined to release it, citing its status as related to confidential personnel issues.
Bailey said she could not comment on the ongoing legal matter, but she indicated that the case would be refiled.
[For more stories about higher education in Oklahoma, visit AimHigherOK.com.]
Mike Brake is a journalist and writer who recently authored a centennial history of Putnam City Schools. A former reporter at The Oklahoman (his coverage of the moon landing earned a front-page byline on July 21, 1969), he served as chief writer for Gov. Frank Keating and for Lt. Gov. and Congresswoman Mary Fallin. He has also served as an adjunct instructor at OSU-OKC, and currently serves as public information officer for Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan.