Six months after her syllabus attracted national and international media attention, Ana Maria Candela has resigned.
Candela, a former assistant professor in Binghamton University’s sociology department, had for years implemented a “progressive stacking” policy in her course — Sociology 100: Social Change: Intro to Sociology. The policy, which stated that Candela would prioritize students in class discussions who are non-white, women or shy and quiet, prompted a Title IX complaint by a student claiming gender discrimination.
Soon after, conservative media outlet Campus Reform published a story on the policy, followed by a variety of large media outlets, including Fox News, the Daily Mail and the New York Post. A screenshot of the syllabus had also been shared on the “Binghamton University Class of 2023 – Parents” Facebook group. While the attention has since subsided, Candela quietly resigned from her post on Sept. 1, stating she found it difficult to remain at the University.
“In the handling of the progressive stacking targeted political attack and public spectacle that I experienced during the spring 2022 semester, I was treated with such callous disrespect by members of the administration of Harpur College, by [BU’s] media and public relations and by a student in my course that to continue to contribute my labor to the institution would involve a profound lack of self-love and self-respect,” Candela wrote in an email.
Progressive stacking is a practice that was born out of the Occupy movement, and has been used by some educators over the past few years. In her syllabus, Candela also wrote that she would ask students who were white, male or “privileged by the racial and gender structures of our society” to often hold off from asking questions, in order to give priority to others. As Candela’s implementation of the practice gained attention last year, she removed the clause from her syllabus.
Last semester, Celia Klin, the dean of Harpur College, had held a meeting with Candela explaining why the University felt the language was problematic — but Candela had not faced disciplinary action. In a letter from Donald Nieman, former provost and academic vice president for academic affairs, the University described why it had not issued a public statement in support of Candela — a demand made by many of her supporters.
“The University supports the goal of inclusive teaching, and all good teachers strive to ensure that all students have a voice in their classes,” Nieman wrote. “Undoubtedly, that was Professor Candela’s intent, and we applaud her for it. However, the controversy was not about Professor Candela’s intentions or even her actual teaching practices. It was about the language she included in her syllabus which is inconsistent with Professor Candela’s and [the] University’s obligations under federal law.”
Specifically, the letter said Candela’s policy had breached Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Title IX of the 1972 Amendments to the Education Act. While Nieman wrote that Candela’s “intention was to be inclusive,” he stressed that the primary issue was the wording of the syllabus.
Sean Harrigan, a reporter for Campus Reform and a junior majoring in economics, had made the Title IX complaint — and was a student of the course last year. Harrigan said the news of Candela’s resignation did not affect his stance.
“My reaction to the news of her resignation is mostly indifference — my goal was never for her to be harassed, fired or pressured to leave,” Harrigan wrote in an email. “At the same time, I was disappointed in the pedagogy of the course.”
In addition to being quoted by several media outlets, Harrigan was also featured on a segment of “Fox and Friends” on Feb. 23, where he discussed the policy.
Kenyon Cavender, a teaching assistant (TA) in the course and second-year doctoral student in sociology, said Candela’s resignation would come at a cost for the department.
“Sociology is not a huge department,” Canvender said. “It’s an absolute loss for our department and it’s felt. We know why she resigned and understand, and are sad that she’s gone. We lost a really good scholar due to this situation.”
Canvender and other TAs raised the issue of privacy in their criticism of the University’s alleged lack of support, as they — along with Candela — had their names and office numbers included in the syllabus posted in the Campus Reform article. In April, Campus Reform had published another article on the class, this time publishing emails between Harrigan and a TA who required masks to be worn after the mask mandate had ended.
Emily Blakely, representative of BU’s Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU) and a sixth-year Ph.D. student studying psychology, said the GSEU was “disappointed” by the University’s “centering” of “the feelings of the right wing.”
“Campus Reform represents a real threat, as those whose identities are exposed by them are unwillingly subjected to racist hate speech and threats of harm,” Blakely said. “This has lasting implications from employees who have to return to the classroom and are forced to continue to work in hostile and unsafe work environments.”
In regard to the syllabus clause itself, students expressed a range of responses, with the Latin American Student Union (LASU) holding a protest in favor of Candela last month.
Some, like Adam Tartasky, a junior majoring in psychology who had taken Candela’s course, said they supported the policy — which Tartasky said supported “underrepresented” students.
“I found it odd that the student that felt the need to go to the local conservative tabloid media was given so much attention for voicing a grievance that, from my observation, held no discernible truth to it,” Tartasky said. “The individual that complained against Professor Candela was in my class, and in my discussion group, and was routinely called on despite his broadly unpopular comments.”
Others, like Danyal Shah, a senior majoring in biochemistry, said the clause should not have been included within the syllabus.
“I can understand that she might want to hear more unique perspectives in discussion, but the policy didn’t need to be outlined in the syllabus,” Shah said. “It sounds like a common unwritten rule that a lot of professors use.”
The sociology department has also seen a recent change in leadership, now chaired by Ji-Song Ku, an associate professor in the department of Asian and Asian American Studies. Ku said his appointment was not related to the syllabus controversy.
With Candela no longer a part of the department, Tartasky said he would miss his experiences with her as an instructor.
“I will be forever grateful for the lessons learned inside and outside of Professor Candela’s classroom, and that I was fortunate enough to be a student of hers,” Tartasky said. “It would be an understatement to say that she made me a better person.”