Professor embroiled in abortion debate raises $9k for legal expenses
Maggie Eastland and Ryan Peters | Wednesday, April 5, 2023
Editor’s note: This article includes excerpts of strong language.
When Tamara Kay posted a sign on her door advocating her office as a “SAFE SPACE to get help and information on ALL healthcare issues and access — confidentially and with care & compassion,” she unleashed a media firestorm that found its way to national headlines.
Kay says the aftermath has pushed her to weigh legal action against the University and the Irish Rover. In December, she hired a lawyer. In January, fellow global affairs professor Susan St. Ville organized a GoFundMe page that, as of April 4, has raised $9,422 to support Kay’s potential legal expenses. Around $1,000 of those donations poured in after The Cut published a story about Kay’s grievances with the University on Monday.
“At this point, the cost of retaining legal representation has placed a significant burden on Prof. Kay and her family,” the page says. “We are seeking funds to offset the legal costs Professor Kay is incurring as she tries to secure the protection for safety and academic freedom not only for herself but for all Notre Dame faculty, staff and students.”
The online fundraising page states any funding that exceeds legal costs will be donated to organizations that support survivors of Indian Residential Schools, including the Legacy of Hope Foundation.
Kay and the GoFundMe description reported that she has received harassment and remains dissatisfied with the University’s efforts to protect her safety and academic freedom.
As Kay told The Cut, one such message read: “Tamara Kay should be a** f***d under Touchdown Jesus at noon.” Others were filled with similar threatening or inappropriate language.
The Irish Rover, a self-professed Catholic, conservative newspaper run by Notre Dame students and faculty advisors, reported that the sign on Kay’s door and a capital letter “J” meant that she was willing to help Notre Dame students access abortions, citing since-deleted tweets that mention information on how to attain Plan C pills and emergency contraception.
Kay did not respond to requests for comment on the meaning of the signage previously on her door. No students reached out to her while the sign was up or since it has been taken down. The signage remained on display for 10 days before meeting with Maura Ryan, vice president and associate provost for faculty affairs, and R. Scott Appleby, the dean of the Keough School, Kay told The Cut.
After the backlash began, Kay tweeted: “The note on my door was not about abortion. And the University knows this, but neither they, nor I can comment on what happened to prompt it. I’ll say no more about that. But I do, of course, fully support abortion rights and the policy implications of abortion bans are horrific,” according to Fox News.
University spokesperson Dennis Brown said that Kay’s signage and social media activity implied that she was offering medical advice on abortions.
“A reasonable person could understand Professor Kay to be giving medical advice (on becoming ‘unpregnant’ by taking abortion pill without knowing any details about an individual student’s health),” a University spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Cut. “This seemed unwise from both the perspective of faculty members and students.”
In the months following the Irish Rover’s coverage, which was picked up by several other news outlets and conservative organizations, Kay received a preponderance of emails and messages attacking her for vocally supporting abortion rights.
Other messages reported to The Cut include: “Drop dead c**t,” and “Eat a couple of handfuls of opossum sh*t.”
In a string of tweets and op-eds, Kay has repeatedly voiced her support for abortion rights with the qualification that her views do not represent the University.
Kay did not clarify whether she planned to pursue any specific legal action. She was not willing to speak on the record with The Observer but offered a written statement.
“There is significant and extensive documentary and witness evidence of the meetings, communications and interactions pertaining to all that has transpired, and in time that will be clear,” she wrote in an email. “This is not and has never been about me. It is about the safety and dignity of the brilliant women students on this campus, who deserve to thrive and flourish here. My commitment to them, and to our Black, indigenous, LGBTQI+ and students of color is unshakeable, at the core of how I try to live my deep faith every day, and cannot be undermined by threats, abuse and harassment.”
University spokesperson Sue Ryan said in an email to The Observer that Notre Dame “categorically denies” that the administration has “in any way limited her academic freedom or failed to address her security and other concerns.”
Ryan cited a list of measures taken to ensure Kay’s safety.
“While no direct threats were identified, the police continue to monitor for any threats other than inappropriate and harassing emails,” Ryan wrote in an email.
NDPD provided Kay with a safety plan for her home and met to address safety concerns in the classroom, she wrote. The Office of Information Technology, at the request of the Office of the Provost “isolated any such emails so that they would not reach Professor Kay, but would be available to Notre Dame police for monitoring.”
Kay has academic freedom to speak in her subject area, Ryan wrote.
“Professor Kay’s area of expertise, which earned her appointment at Notre Dame, relates to global trade and, in particular, the North American Free Trade Agreement,” Ryan wrote. “Even now, her page on the Department of Sociology website lists her research expertise in a wide range of sociological topics — none involving reproductive rights. Like any citizen, all Notre Dame faculty are of course free to discuss their personal opinions so long as they distinguish those opinions from their position at the University, a policy that is common in higher education.”
The University declined to comment on whether or why Kay has sought legal representation.
News writer Liam Price contributed to this report.