Angela Bryant does not recall sending an angry written resignation notice during a mental health crisis in November 2020. When she realized, to her horror, that she had emailed it mail during a manic episode of bipolar disorder, she tried to cancel it. . Ohio State University said it accepted the resignation and there was no turning back.
Now Bryant, who had been a tenured associate professor of sociology with 13 years of teaching experience at Ohio State, is battling to get his job back. Her case draws national attention to the struggles that mentally ill faculty members face when their illness interferes with their work — and the challenges universities face in responding.
Bryant was diagnosed in January 2020 with a severe case of bipolar disorder – bipolar I – as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, and was excused from teaching duties. She said she recovered with therapy and medication and was looking forward to returning to teaching. She has the support of dozens of colleagues, who wrote a letter to the administrators asking for her reinstatement.
But as with all cases involving sensitive personal matters, the university is limited in what it can say and insists there is a lot its supporters don’t know. Her discrimination case was dismissed last year by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
In September 2021, the commission concluded that it was “not likely” that the university had discriminated against him. Although the commission said she was a qualified disabled employee, it added that neither she nor her medical providers had provided the university with official medical documentation about her disability or her need for formal accommodations. As a result, he said, the university was not “officially” informed of his disability.
Fred Gittes, an attorney for Bryant, disputed that, saying the university had received ample evidence of his mental health, including a letter from his therapist and another from a well-known mental hospital. The therapist wrote in December 2020 that “it is my professional opinion that Ms. Bryant’s state of mind on November 10 was incompetent to rationally assess the consequences of submitting a formal resignation to her employer, and the decision was taken under duress from a manic episode resulting from bipolar disorder and PTSD.
Bryant said she learned of the email she sent from a social worker who was communicating with the university on her behalf while she was hospitalized.
“When I read the email I had sent, as a rational person who had recovered from an episode of a treatable illness, it was not a resignation letter,” said Bryant in an interview Friday. “It was clearly a cry for help.”
The letter to the then chair of the sociology department, which contained profanity and stated that she was resigning, effective immediately, made no sense to Bryant. “I had a good working relationship with my dean and my department,” she said. “I don’t know where that would come from.”
After learning of the letter, Bryant’s parents, who had been granted emergency guardianship over her, contacted university administrators, begging them to reconsider accepting the resignation.
After hearing his case, the University Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Accountability recommended in April 2021 that Bryant be reinstated. Members of the university’s Senate faculty hearing committee also criticized the university’s handling of his case.
“During our investigation, we found no evidence that an administrator at Ohio State University asked Dr. Bryant the simple question, ‘Do you agree? “The statement said. “At a university dedicated to the health and well-being of students, staff, and faculty, we find this a gross failure.”
The letter described Bryant as a valuable faculty member who had held leadership positions, including overseeing local diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Last month, university provost Melissa L. Gilliam and president Kristina M. Johnson responded to faculty members, saying they appreciated their concern for their colleague, but could not not discuss private personnel issues. “As you know, personnel issues can be complex and it is difficult for you to discern the full picture of a particular situation without complete and accurate information,” the letter states.
In a prepared statement, a university spokesperson, Benjamin Johnson, said Ohio Stateis “committed to supporting the health and well-being of our faculty, staff, and students. So that the university takes individual privacy concerns seriously and cannot comment further on this specific case, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission has confirmed the State of Ohio’s handling of this sensitive issue in terms of employment.
The statement goes on to say that the university supports employees with short-term and long-term disabilities and is “fully committed to providing equal opportunity to all employees.”
Bryant is not convinced. “As a mental health advocate with an MSW [master’s in social work], I wondered what I would have done if I had received such an email,” she said. Besides reaching out to the sender, “I might even have called the police to check it out.” According to her, “the university saw my mental illness as a problem – something they wanted to get rid of – rather than seeing it as a temporary crisis in a treatable disease”.
In a Facebook post, former student Hunter Santurello said Bryant played a big role in helping her stay in college when she dealt with her own mental health crisis. “She deserves grace, patience and understanding more than anyone else,” she wrote.