• October 25, 2014

AAUP Censures 2 Institutions and Removes 2 Others From Censure List

Members of the American Association of University Professors voted unanimously on Saturday to place Southern University at Baton Rouge and National Louis University on its censure list for actions of the universities' administrations that violated the association's academic-freedom and tenure standards.

In votes taken during a daylong business meeting at the group's annual meeting here, members also removed two colleges from the censure list—St. Bonaventure University, in New York, and Our Lady of Holy Cross College, in Louisiana. St. Bonaventure, whose censure stemmed from the administration's termination of 18 tenured professors, had been on the list for nearly 20 years.

Censure Votes

The vote to censure Southern University at Baton Rouge was based on a recommendation that said the public, historically black institution had laid off 19 tenured professors in the 2011-12 academic year and had given the faculty almost no say in deciding which positions to terminate. Professors were also largely shut out of the process by which administrators and the Board of Supervisors of the flagship campus of the Southern University system arrived at a declaration of financial exigency to pave the way for the terminations, the association said.

A report on the events, by an AAUP investigative committee, questioned whether the budget shortfall that administrators said existed was large enough to make declaring financial exigency the only option.

Sudhir Trivedi, vice president of the Louisiana conference of the AAUP and a former president of Southern's Faculty Senate, told delegates at the business meeting that he supported the censure and hopes his university "changes its mind and tries to amend the situation."

The association's censure list now numbers 52 institutions.

Edward Pratt, a spokesman for the Baton Rouge campus, did not respond to a request for comment.

The recommendation to censure National Louis University, which has campuses in the Chicago area, Milwaukee, and Tampa, Fla., followed a sharply worded report by an AAUP investigative committee on how the institution had eliminated departments and fired 63 full-time faculty members in the name of cutting costs last spring. Sixteen of those professors were tenured.

Henry Reichman, chair of the AAUP's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which made the censure recommendation, called the investigative committee's findings on National Louis "chilling."

The recommendation accuses National Louis of never declaring financial exigency, a key step in justifying the layoffs, according to AAUP standards. After terminating the full-time faculty members, the university replaced them with adjuncts who teach the same courses that the fired professors did.

In a written statement, the university's president, Nivine Megahed, acknowledged that National Louis had to make some "difficult decisions last year." But, Ms. Megahed said, they were made in the "best interest of our students and the future sustainability of our institution. I am even more convinced today than I was then that if we had not made these changes, the institution would not have survived long term."

Ms. Megahed said it was "unfortunate" that National Louis had been censured for responding to a changing financial landscape and that the university "has and continues to hold dear the principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and advancing the public good."

Vote Deferred

One university escaped a censure vote at this year's meeting. An AAUP investigative committee issued a report in January on the University of Northern Iowa's decision to discontinue nearly 20 percent of the university's academic programs and cut 50 faculty members as a result—although the terminations never happened. But recent actions by the institution's new president, William N. Ruud, prompted the association to recommend that no censure-related action take place just yet.

Mr. Ruud was appointed president in February, and almost immediately, even before taking office in June, he expressed his intent to work with faculty groups and the association's staff to resolve the issues brought up in the AAUP's investigative report. Since then Northern Iowa's AAUP chapter and its Faculty Senate have agreed that the university has made some progress, prompting both groups to ask the association to defer any action so that Mr. Ruud would have a chance to "demonstrate his commitment to AAUP principles," according to the association's recommendation.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and report back in a year," said Mr. Reichman, who is first vice president of the AAUP. "We hope, and have good reason to be optimistic, that the problems there will have been resolved."

Sanctions Lifted

Members voted to remove St. Bonaventure University from the censure list following a visit to the campus by an AAUP representative who reported that the institution is a much different place now. St. Bonaventure's Board of Trustees has approved new faculty-handbook provisions on declaring financial exigency that comply with AAUP-recommended standards. And recently administrators have drafted a statement of shared governance to be added to the faculty handbook as well.

"Relationships between faculty and the Board of Trustees have improved dramatically," said Steven R. Nuttall, an associate professor of philosophy at the Roman Catholic institution, who was also present at the AAUP annual meeting in 1996 when St. Bonaventure was censured. The rebuke by the association was effective in this case, he said. Administrators and trustees have worked to improve shared governance and academic freedom at the university "because they wanted to get off the censure list," Mr. Nuttall said.

Our Lady of Holy Cross College was removed from the censure list after a six-year stint. The 2007 vote against the New Orleans institution occurred after the college's president at the time fired a professor who was head of the Faculty Senate. The professor wasn't told why he had been fired, and there was no hearing about his dismissal.

But a new president, Ronald J. Ambrosetti, took office in 2012 and made it clear to the association's staff and to faculty members that he wanted to get the college removed from the censure list. According to the recommendation regarding St. Bonaventure, President Ambrosetti worked with the college's AAUP chapter on revising the faculty handbook, and a new version of it, adopted last month, commits the college to adhering to the AAUP's so-called Redbook, a primer of various policies related to academic freedom.

The professor who was fired has not been rehired full time, because of financial constraints that won't allow the college to create a new position for him. However, the professor accepted a settlement last month that includes allowing him to return to the faculty to teach part time with the assurance that he would be considered for a full-time position "if and when one should become available," the recommendation says.

Other Business

Also passed, by voice votes, during the business meeting were three resolutions. One was in support of the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act (S 897), a measure in the U.S. Senate that would, among other things, prevent the doubling of the interest rate on some federally subsidized student loans, to 6.8 percent, on July 1.

Members also approved a resolution that calls for the governing body of the City University of New York to stop pushing an overhaul of the university's general-education curriculum that faculty members do not support.

A third resolution outlines a template that colleges could use when hiring a university president. The "Profile for a Twenty-First Century President," which lays out a wide range of principles that a president should be "deeply committed to," stemmed from discussions led by New York University faculty members as they discussed what they wanted in a new president. NYU's current president, John E. Sexton, has been the subject of no-confidence votes by various groups of faculty members, but still has the support of the university's Board of Trustees.

In a speech to the membership, the president of the AAUP, Rudy H. Fichtenbaum, highlighted various violations of academic freedom and shared governance at specific universities as well as trends that he said didn't bode well for higher education as a whole—such as corporate influence and the impending battle over intellectual-property rights as it relates to massive open online courses created by faculty members.

"To save our profession we need a vehicle to fight back, and I would put it to you that that vehicle is, in fact, the AAUP," said Mr. Fichtenbaum, who is also a professor of economics at Wright State University. If the AAUP is going to be truly effective, Mr. Fichtenbaum said, "we really need a bigger organization."

One way that could occur is if the association organizes more faculty and graduate-student unions. Howard Bunsis, chair of the AAUP Collective-Bargaining Congress, spoke of recent union victories at institutions like Bowling Green State University, where this spring the union ratified its first contract, and of continuing campaigns at places like the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where efforts to organize faculty members have been going on for nearly two years. A victory there "could resonate all over the country," Mr. Bunsis said, because of the institution's status as a major research university.

Another way to expand the AAUP's reach, Mr. Fichtenbaum said, is for the association to form coalitions with other higher-education groups, students, and community leaders.

"We cannot win this fight by ourselves," he said.

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