• September 30, 2014

AAUP Rebukes Southern U. at Baton Rouge Over Faculty Layoffs

The American Association of University Professors has accused Southern University at Baton Rouge of violating basic principles of shared governance, tenure, and due process in laying off 19 tenured professors and shrinking faculty salaries during the last academic year.

In a new report, the AAUP argues that faculty members were all but completely shut out of the process through which the Board of Supervisors of the Southern University system and the administration of its flagship at Baton Rouge declared that campus to be in a state of financial exigency in October 2011 to pave the way for layoffs.

The campus's administration, the report says, similarly gave faculty members there little voice in deciding which faculty positions to terminate, and then laid off faculty members with far too little notice or regard for tenure rights.

"In some cases," the report says, "department chairs were unaware that members of their department had been selected for layoff." Nearly all faculty members' appeals of their terminations were denied through a process the report characterizes as failing to meet AAUP standards.

The report, by an AAUP investigative committee, expresses doubt that the campus even had a big enough budget shortfall to warrant the declaration of financial exigency. It notes that during the 2011-12 academic year, the campus administration transferred nearly $2-million to a laboratory school and to athletics programs over the objections of the Faculty Senate. The added athletics spending was to deter the National Collegiate Athletic Association from demoting the campus from Division I to Division III.

At the same meeting in which it declared a financial emergency on the campus, the report says, the system's Board of Supervisors voted to adopt new policies that limited faculty involvement in handling the crisis and curtailed the due-process rights of faculty members whose jobs were put on the chopping block. In doing so, it suspended policies that in 1987 got it off the AAUP's censure list, where it had been for nearly 20 years after suspending or removing dissenting faculty members without cause in the late 1960s.

Censure Vote Expected

The administration initially did let the Baton Rouge campus's Faculty Senate participate in an effort to get tenured faculty members there to pledge to accept 10-percent reductions in their salaries through voluntary furloughs. The administration scrapped that effort, however, and moved on its own to cut salaries by 10 percent, the report says, when furlough pledges were signed by just 60 percent of faculty members rather than the 90 percent it had sought.

Edward Pratt, a university spokesman, declined this week to comment on the AAUP report. In a letter reprinted in the report, the campus administration argues that it "did everything possible to avoid fiscal exigency" and could not have balanced its budget over the past two academic years without such a declaration. It disputes the report's assertions regarding its effort to save money through voluntary furloughs, saying that many faculty members retracted their pledges once it became clear others were not on board.

The AAUP's report on the Baton Rouge campus comes as the association is moving to revise its guidelines for colleges that are considering declarations of financial exigency. Nevertheless, Jennifer J. Nichols, a senior program officer in the association's department of academic freedom, tenure, and governance, said in an e-mail that the conclusions in the report on Southern University would have been the same even if the proposed new guidelines had been applied.

The association is expected to vote on whether to censure Southern University at Baton Rouge at its annual meeting, in June. The institution is one of several public colleges in Louisiana that have run afoul of the AAUP in recent years. Southern University's New Orleans campus was placed on the AAUP's censure list in 2007, but then taken off after it reinstated most of the professors whose furloughs had triggered the action.

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