Wang Ping, acclaimed poet and professor, sues Macalester for discrimination

Categories: Education, Law
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Wang Ping and the humanities building at Macalester.
Wang Ping came to the United States from China with $26 in her pocket. Thirteen years later, she had earned her master's and Ph.D., and in 1999 Macalester hired her to teach creative writing.

In 2001 she hopped on the tenure track, and by 2005 she achieved the rank of a tenured associate professor. Meanwhile, she wrote several of her 10 books and earned coveted awards such as a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry.

But then in 2009, Wang applied for a promotion to full professor, around the same time that a similarly qualified white, male colleague sought the same rank increase. He was promoted. Wang wasn't.

Now, she's suing Macalester for discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

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"I always know that as a woman and a Chinese immigrant, I have to work harder and achieve more in every aspect, especially at Macalester with its record of high minority faculty turnover," Wang wrote in a lengthy Facebook post. But, she says, "I was confident I could survive."

Wang's 2009 denial wasn't her first problem with Macalester. When she began at the school, she had just given birth to her son and was having difficulty walking. When she asked for a different schedule, however, her supervisor advised her to endure. In 2003, she sought an early promotion to associate professor and was denied, even as two male colleagues who had been hired after her advanced. In 2005, she achieved that rank.

When Wang was next denied, in 2009, she appealed. Macalester's Faculty Personnel Committee found violations of the school's policy in her denial, but President Brian Rosenberg declined to investigate them further.

Wang says she then began experiencing retaliation, such as funding cuts and lack of support, and in 2011, she filed a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC investigated Macalester, but dismissed her case at the end of 2012, and gave Wang 90 days to sue.

So on December 3, she did.

Macalester's lawyers, from the firm Faegre Baker Daniels, responded three weeks later, and on February 1 declared that Wang's relationship with the school is past the point of no return, and that mediation was no longer possible.

Back in 2005, President Rosenberg wrote that Wang is "an exceptionally gifted poet, writer and theorist... well-suited to Macalester's focus on internationalism," and that she had "already accomplished more than a lifetime's work."

By the time she applied for promotion in 2009, she had created three interdisciplinary courses and traveled to different cities as Macalester's "Road Scholar." By comparison, Wang's male colleague, who was granted a promotion at the same time that Wang was denied, had published two books to Wang's ten.

In 2011, she filed her discrimination claims. Meanwhile, she applied for the promotion again, and in the spring of 2012 Macalester approved it. So after the EEOC informed her she had 90 days to sue, Wang first tried to pursue reconciliation. It wasn't until she didn't hear back on that request that she served the school with her complaint.

"My life is shattered," Wang wrote on her Facebook page. "I ask to be treated as an equal to my colleagues despite my gender, religion and nationality... I'm still hoping to sit down face-to-face with the administrators for a conversation... to transform this into something positive."

"It's not about money," Wang continued, "but about working together to make Macalester truly live up to its standards."

Here's Wang's complaint:

Ping Wang. Complaint.filed Ramsey 1-9-13 by

For more on Wang, Minnesota Original interviewed her in September.

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These forums are designed to get people talking, but is anyone really listening?  Really?  What I see is a woman who's worked her butt off to make her university look good (what the tenure track in many ways is all about), AND the world a better place.  When people of her caliber are continually passed over for promotions, etc., that's usually a good sign of some form of discrimination.  I don't think she's "jumped to conclusions" in thinking it's racism/sexism.  If it were something legitimate as another poster suggested - such as poor teaching style, etc. - I'm pretty sure she would have known by now.

The provost saying she was a "poor teacher" and "didn't do enough for Macalester" is really, really fishy, not to mention outrageously insulting.  The follow-up that she was not supposed to compare herself to her colleague, nor talk about the denial nor apply for years is a huge red flag that something is seriously wrong.  While there are some people who wave their racist flag high for all the world to see that's usually not how it works; most people are smarter than that.  Of COURSE it didn't sound overtly racist or misogynistic.  But that doesn't mean it wasn't.  And if it is something else going on, that something else sounds just as shady (nepotism, someone giving preference to a buddy rather than the best qualified) and it still needs to be dealt with.

Racism and discrimination are alive and well, and happen every day in the US.  Yet somehow we think that they ended with the Civil Rights and Women's Liberation movements - or at least those of us who aren't discriminated against for our ethnicity or gender don't.  Her taking on the university isn't demanding a handout; it's seeking justice.  No one goes into a huge, exhausting, expensive legal battle for a handout.  That's just ludicrous.


Here's the thing: Macalester has an English department. Their emphasis is on undergrad lit and language. It appears they do offer a creative writing emphasis, but not a BFA. (Feel free to fact check that statement.)

So, why does a creative writer think a college without a creative writing program is going to promote a creative writer to full professor?

She needs a position at a school that has use for a poet with a PhD. Mac college ain't it. She's outgrown her use. If she wants a promotion, she needs a position in a grad CW program.

However, her MA and PhD limit her opportunities in creative writing programs as well. She took the wrong track for that field.

This is not about female or minority discrimination, IMHO. It's about a college with no need for a full prof poet with a PhD in lit.

Chrissy Burgell
Chrissy Burgell

Curtis seems to be missing the point. This should NOT be normal.


Is this surprising? This sounds typical. When you decide to follow a career path in academia, you are choosing a life of ass kissing and politics, and arbitrary judgement of worth. Not only is there discrimination, there's also a lot of reverse discrimination. It's rampant...and normal.

This fight will not end well. Even if she wins...she loses.

Curtis Meyer
Curtis Meyer

Is this surprising? This sounds typical. When you decide to follow a career path in academia, you are choosing a life of ass kissing and politics, and arbitrary judgement of worth. Not only is there discrimination, there's also a lot of reverse discrimination. It's rampant...and normal. This fight will not end well. Even if she wins...she loses.


I believe the firm's name was spelled Faegre & Benson, and they are now Faegre Baker Daniels.


@truckmeyer Well, the fact is, there are currently four tenure track creative writing professors in Macalester's creative writing department. I'm pretty sure Wang Ping is the oldest one. When she was first hired, there was only one creative writing professor, and Dr Wang was taken on as a visiting professor. That was it, just two professors in the Creative Writing department. 

From what I understand, it was Wang's work that grew the department in the first place. She created interdisciplinary courses with professors in different departments. She connected her students with writing communities both local and even international. Since she is an internationally renowned writer, she's been able to bring in other internationally renowned writers and poets to speak and work with students. Two of her former students, Alex Lemon and Peter Bognanni are now published authors and now Bognanni is a tenure track professor himself.

If you ask me, the whole reason Macalester even has much of a creative writing program is because of Wang. Academia just has so much prejudice against creative writing, especially poetry, and I think that's sad. English professors talk so highly of writing that's done hundreds of years ago, but they couldn't care less for the writing that's happening now. Despite this, you see these trends at schools like Macalester, where students just really want to learn creative writing. Maybe it's because they had a great teacher in high school who made them want to learn it, but maybe it's also because their college has such a great program in creative writing, with some great professors, like Wang Ping. Sooner or later, more students want to go to a school like Macalster because it's got a great creative writing program. Well, that's good for everyone.


Wang was denied because "she is not good enough."

Please read Wang's statement posted on her Facebook: "One can imagine the shock and confusion when the Provost called me into her office and told me I was denied the promotion because I was a poor teacher and didn’t do enough for Macalester. She told me I must not compare myself to my colleague who got his second early promotion with 2 books, must not tell the denial to anyone, must not apply again for years to come."


@invisiblehat @truckmeyer I don't think she's being discriminated against. I think this is a decision based on sustainability.

Does Macalester, a small, private, undergrad college, have the funding to pay for a full-prof poet?

They might, if they have a rich benefactor who enjoys the writing of said full-prof poet, or if they take funding away from something else.

Perhaps they'll eliminate a non-tenured position or two. Is she willing to take on that load?

If so, she just eliminated opportunities for people just like you.

If not, she better start making calls and knocking on doors. Someone needs to pay her salary. And poetry don't pay the bills.

My point: no one is going to Macalaster to become a poet, and the folks who fund that college need to know why she's tenured and making the $ if she ain't putting butts in the seats.


@tangqin I think artists and administrators speak two different languages, and value different things.

She is being discriminated against, but I think it's for reasons other than she's claiming. I doubt these reasons were made completely clear to her by the a
dministrators. And that's why she's jumping to her conclusion that it's racist and/or misogynist.

And I think this is going to be a hard fight that she's probably going to lose.

Regardless, it's gunna be bad karma all around.


@tangqin Regardless of whether I agree with the "provost" or not ( I do), the statement doesn't sound racist or misogynistic to me. So, why the lawsuit?


@tangqin She's not putting butts in the seats because students have consistently complained about how she teaches. I went there, I had a lot of friends who took her courses -- bad reviews all around.

You can have all the interdisciplinary-administrative-poetic talent in the world, but if students are miserable in the classroom with you, you won't get tenure. And rightly so. 


@tangqin 1. Poets aren't paying the bills. Sorry.  Especially not at small, private colleges.

2. She's the one who brought this into a public forum.  Opinions are going to fly.  Sorry.


How much do you know Wang to say that she is not "putting butts in the seats?

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