Penn State

Chinese professor sues Penn State, claims discrimination

Yongsheng Chen says he should be a tenured professor at Penn State and is taking the issue to court.

The State College resident filed his claim in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Thursday, accusing the university of discrimination on the basis of race and national origin.

Chen, an assistant professor of energy and mineral engineering in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, was denied tenure in January 2013 after five years at Penn State.

In his 25-page filing, attorney James Lieber, of Pittsburgh, trumpets Chen’s accomplishments, such as receiving the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Young Faculty Award and his extensive body of research. But he also points to other people’s work, detailing — project for project — the accomplishments of white, American-born faculty members granted tenure.

Chen claims 45 publishing credits, including 22 peer-reviewed articles during his time at Penn State as of the tenure decision. Just one of those, however, listed Chen as the first author in a field of multiples. The suit claims the university said it was impossible to ascertain the “true extent” of Chen’s contributions to the projects.

Lieber referred to three other professors for comparison, claiming that the one white male and two white females were given tenure despite having fewer publications to their credit. However, the plaintiff’s own statistics show that at least two of those professors were the first authors on a larger percentage of their body of work.

According to a letter cited in the filing, Dean William Easterling told Chen in 2012 that he was pleased with the professor’s progress, but added “I strongly encourage you to concentrate on submitting first author-manuscripts and publishing more with your own students.”

The lawsuit comes just months after President Eric Barron began pushing for more diversity in the faculty and students as national and state demographics change.

“Are we being inclusive?” he asked in an interview with the Centre Daily Times in April. “Is this a place where people come and feel like they belong here?”

The university did not comment on the case, as it generally does not offer comments on ongoing or pending litigation.

However, Penn State’s tenure information is available online.

“The university’s complex organization and multiple missions make these academic judgments vital, since no one set of criteria can apply equally to all faculty members in all programs. Likewise, such diversity within the university entails promotion and tenure arrangements specifically tailored to the mission and organizational structure of its various academic units,” read the policy manual.

Chen claims he is forced to relocate to Hong Kong to work in his field and will be separated from his family. He is seeking a jury trial in the case and asks for back pay, front pay and damages.