Poet and professor Wang Ping is suing Macalester College for discrimination, saying the St. Paul college thwarted her attempts to move up the tenure track, then retaliated against her when she spoke out.

Wang said she would have preferred to avoid this public legal process. "A single face-to-face meeting, a gesture of mutual respect, a kind word from the president could have averted this suit," she said in Facebook post. By phone, she said that Macalester officials have refused to sit down with her.

The December suit argues that despite Wang's "internationally acclaimed" work as an author, poet and educator, the college denied her promotion requests, while granting similar requests from white men in the same department. After her application for promotion was denied in 2009, Wang earned the title of full professor in spring 2012. She is seeking damages for "all earnings, wages and other benefits that she would have received," among other things.

Macalester's attorneys have argued that Wang's "allegations are without merit," according to one filing in Ramsey County, provided by Wang and that she "has continued to be a valued member of Macalester's faculty."

"Since this is a personnel issue, Macalester cannot comment," spokeswoman Barbara Laskin said by e-mail. She added that "Wang's claim has already been investigated and dismissed by the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission]." Wang confirmed that the EEOC dismissed her complaint.

Wang was born in Shanghai, earned her doctorate at New York University, started working at Macalester in 1999 and was hired as an assistant professor of English in 2001. Two years later, she requested early promotion to the position of associate professor, which was denied, according to her complaint.

She remembers thinking, "I will swallow this. I don't want to be regarded as a troublemaker."

In 2009, Wang applied to be promoted to full professor. A committee of six professors, the provost and the president denied her promotion. In a statement filed Feb. 1, attorneys for Macalester said that the committee "determined that her record of teaching and service did not meet the high standard for promotion to full professor."

Wang strongly defends her record, ticking off the books she's written, classes she's taught, projects she's coordinated and speakers she's brought to campus.

"They say that discrimination is the most difficult thing to prove,"she said. "My lawyer has tried to prove by comparison — by putting myself next to my colleagues shoulder to shoulder in our publication, our teaching."

She alleges that since she filed the complaint with the EEOC, the college has retaliated against her, refusing to facilitate her projects.

The college contends that "she has not been treated less favorably because she filed a charge of discrimination," according to the statement by attorneys with Faegre Baker Daniels in Minneapolis.

Fellow poets and past students have rallied online around Wang.

"Any derogatory allegation about Ping's teaching is, I think, just completely ludicrous," said Oliver St. John, who as a sophomore picked Wang as an adviser and later assisted her in teaching a course. "She's such a brilliant professor." St. John, a 2012 graduate who works as a reporter for USA Today, said that while his alma mater often espouses the values of diversity, "I wouldn't put this kind of hypocrisy past Macalester."

Yet Wang still speaks highly of the college and its mission. "I love Macalester," she said, adding that she's never applied to work anywhere else.

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168