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WSU hires law firm to review brief tenure of former provost, claims of sexism

UPDATED: Mon., March 2, 2020

Washington State University has hired a Seattle law firm to review Mitzi Montoya’s brief tenure as provost and executive vice president, including claims that she was a target of sexist criticism. (Washington State University)
Washington State University has hired a Seattle law firm to review Mitzi Montoya’s brief tenure as provost and executive vice president, including claims that she was a target of sexist criticism. (Washington State University)

Washington State University has hired a Seattle law firm to review Mitzi Montoya’s brief tenure as provost and executive vice president, including claims she was a target of sexist criticism.

The law firm Karr Tuttle Campbell was selected by faculty senate leaders and will begin its inquiry this week, the university said in a news release Monday, adding the results will be made publicly available. WSU spokesman Phil Weiler said the inquiry has no fixed timeline.

As provost, Montoya reported directly to President Kirk Schulz and oversaw teaching and research across WSU campuses. She left the position in late September, less than two months after she was recruited from Oregon State University.

WSU administrators decided to launch the independent review this month after internal emails surfaced in news reports, raising questions among faculty members.

In one email to Schulz on Sept. 22, Montoya described meeting with a consultant, Jean Frankel, who had been hired to guide the university’s strategic planning efforts.

“I had another session with Jean today wherein I learned that there are major concerns about me – I need a personality transplant, I need to be more feminine and conforming in my communication style, and I need to be less intelligent,” Montoya wrote.

The emails also describe tensions arising from poorly defined administrative roles, reporting channels and budgeting procedures.

Montoya appeared to offer her resignation to Schulz, and her departure from the provost position was announced days later. She is now a tenured professor in WSU’s Carson College of Business and a special assistant to the college’s dean.

WSU said the law firm’s inquiry will focus on three areas of concern, including any gender bias against Montoya, any “improper influence or pressure” surrounding the decision to end her appointment as provost, and the role that Frankel’s consulting firm, Ideas for Action LLC, played in the decision.

The university is searching for another provost who would start the job on Aug. 1. Bryan Slinker, formerly the dean of WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is serving as interim provost.

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