The University of Louisiana system's Board of Supervisors on Friday voted to approve new rules that will allow its institutions to more quickly dismiss faculty members, even those with tenure, whose programs have been closed.
At a time when the state's financial climate makes it difficult for campuses to determine their budgets from year to year, that kind of flexibility is key, system officials said. But professors at the board meeting, including representatives of each of the system's eight campuses, told the supervisors that such a move would erode the protection tenure provides and could ultimately make the system's institutions unattractive to job seekers and lead current faculty members to leave.
Donna Rhorer, an associate professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and chair of the system's faculty-council committee, said she could understand the board's frustration with the state's financial situation. But the new rules do not provide tenured faculty members with "adequate protection," she said. "We do not approve of these policies as they are stated."
Kevin L. Cope, a professor of English at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, which is not part of the University of Louisiana system, said he had come to the meeting to support his colleagues in the state."If I were a young faculty member, I would immediately turn around and walk out the door," he said. "This damages all the other higher-education systems in Louisiana."
The board agreed to shorten the amount of notice professors must receive if their jobs are to be terminated because their program is being shut down, a scenario that has played out already in some colleges in the system and elsewhere. Tenured faculty members would get at least two academic semesters' (or three quarters') notice before losing their jobs, while tenure-track faculty members could be terminated with a minimum of three months' notice. Non-tenure track faculty members could be terminated with one month's notice.
If an institution's state appropriations were cut by at least 15 percent for the next fiscal year, or received a midyear cut of 7.5 percent, then tenured faculty members would see their length of notice shrink even further, to less than six months. That part of the new rules is set to expire on June 30, 2013.
At one point, the board was considering adding program reductions as a legitimate cause for dismissing faculty members. But that proposal, introduced last summer, was revised after faculty members protested that the definition of "reduction" could be too widely interpreted by administrators and so put individual faculty members at risk. The rules adopted on Friday allow institutions to cut tenured positions only in the face of financial exigency or if a program is completely discontinued.
The changes in the rules also call for professors to take appeals related to terminations triggered by program cuts to a university-wide committee, as opposed to the Board of Supervisors. More than one professor urged the board to reconsider the notion of turning over appeals to such an internal committee on each campus that could be influenced by administrators seeking to be rid of certain faculty members. The board, the professors said, would be more likely to be impartial.