The American Association of University Professors is sharply criticizing how National Louis University eliminated departments and fired more than 60 full-time faculty members, 16 of whom had tenure, last spring for the sake of cutting costs.
In a report released on Thursday, an AAUP investigative committee argues that National Louis had no acceptable financial or educational justification for either the layoffs or a related reorganization leading to the closure of four academic departments and 14 academic programs. Not only did the university never issue a formal declaration of financial exigency that would have justified the layoffs under AAUP guidelines, the report says, National Louis also replaced full-time faculty members with enough adjunct instructors to raise doubts about its assertions that the full-timers' services were not needed.
In deciding where to make cuts, the report says, the university's administration "disregarded institutionally approved procedures for program review in favor of an ad hoc process of its own choosing," and its deliberations "were hurried and so 'confidential' as to be invisible to much of the faculty."
When faculty members spoke out against the downsizing plan that resulted from the program-review process, their objections were ignored, the report says. The investigative committee, it says, "was particularly struck by how quickly and extensively competent and experienced members of the faculty, many of them with decades of service to the institution, were replaced by a cadre of part-time adjunct faculty members."
'Serious Financial Pressures'
The AAUP report's main conclusions are being challenged by National Louis, a private nonprofit university that operates five campuses in metropolitan Chicago, a sixth in Milwaukee, and a seventh in Tampa, Fla.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the university's president, Nivine Megahed, argued that National Louis had been "facing serious financial pressures" when it decided to close the departments and programs.
Ms. Megahed disputed the AAUP report's assertion that such downsizing decisions were made with little faculty involvement and have left the university staffed heavily by adjuncts with little real academic freedom. She said the university "is committed to academic freedom and a transparent, shared governance decision-making process," which led to the decisions the report criticizes.
"While very difficult," Ms. Megahed said, "these decisions have enabled the university to stabilize a multiyear decline and provided the opportunity to place our focus on our students and the quality of their educational experience."
The university's statement and the AAUP report disagree sharply in how they characterize the rationale for layoffs, which were spread across all of the university's campuses. The university's statement argued that the layoffs had been necessitated by the elimination of academic departments and programs that, together, accounted for less than 1 percent of the university's graduates.
The AAUP said that the program and department closures appear to have served as a pretext for the layoffs, and that the university's focus on how many students had been graduating with majors in those academic areas distracts from the real issue of how many students had been taking classes in them and continue to do so. The university's educational mission was served by full-time faculty members in those departments "who remained busily engaged in providing general education and service courses" and "were not underworked," the report says.
Replaced With Adjuncts
The AAUP report says the university shed at least 98, or nearly half, of its full-time faculty members over two years, taking into account that an additional 10 took early retirement last year, and 15 were laid off and 10 took early retirement in 2011, before the period the report covers. The report says that "with no comparable drastic shrinkage in student enrollment," adjunct faculty members "have been engaged to fill the gap," with the result being that part-time adjuncts now teach almost all the classes in the College of Arts and Sciences, where four academic departments were closed.
Of the 16 tenured faculty members whose positions were eliminated, just one was offered a permanent job in another department, while others were told they could continue to work there as adjuncts and teach up to seven courses a year at about $2,000 per course, the report says.
The AAUP had questioned many of the cuts in programs and positions at National Louis while they were being made. Early last year Howard Bunsis, a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University who at the time was the AAUP's secretary-treasurer, examined the university's finances and argued that it was not in dire financial condition—a conclusion the university's administration rejected.
President Megahed did not respond to letters from the AAUP last spring that voiced concern about faculty rights' being trampled at National Louis, and finally responded to a June 12 letter from the association announcing plans to investigate the university by challenging its authority to do so, the report says.
The AAUP is expected to vote at its annual meeting in June on whether to censure National Louis in response to the report, which has been approved by the association's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.