• August 30, 2014

AAUP Report Says Real Faculty Tenure Doesn't Exist at 2 Louisiana Institutions

Administrators at Northwestern State University and Southeastern Louisiana University demonstrated a deep disregard for tenure when they cut academic programs and eliminated the jobs of tenured professors last year, the American Association of University Professors says in a report it is issuing today.

Neither Louisiana institution, the report says, adhered to the association's principles of academic freedom and tenure as they discontinued a total of about 30 academic programs and terminated at least 20 tenured professors associated with them at the end of the 2010-11 academic year. The cuts were part of a larger plan developed by the Louisiana Board of Regents designed to get rid of inefficient programs as a way to save money in advance of projected budget reductions.

The AAUP's report says the association has no evidence that faculty members at Northwestern State were given a chance to discuss with administrators whether alternatives to terminating 16 faculty members had been pursued. Faculty members also were largely shut out of the committee that selected programs to cut, and they played a minimal role in identifying which faculty positions would be affected, the report says. The association also said it was "deeply concerned" that Northwestern State wasn't able to find new jobs for the fired faculty members that would let them maintain their tenure status, as the system's policy says it allows when programs are discontinued. Instead, the institution retained some of the tenured professors to continue teaching their courses but as lower-paid non-tenure-track faculty.

"The Northwestern State University administration showed utter disregard for tenure in virtually every aspect" of the process to discontinue academic programs, the report says. "Without a strong tenure system and chief administrative officers who respect it, academic freedom at the institution remains insecure."

The association's criticisms of Southeastern Louisiana, where the undergraduate French and French-education majors were cut and three tenured professors were terminated, were essentially the same.

Randy Moffett, the president of the University of Louisiana system, said in a written statement that the AAUP's report—which he called "deeply flawed"—focuses on the association's principles, which are not the same as the rules and policies under which the system's nine universities operate. The program cuts and terminations were "carefully vetted" by the system's Board of Supervisors, staff, and legal counsel, the statement said, and there were "documented instances" of faculty feedback and transparency on the issue.

"The bottom line is that our universities must adapt to changes in Louisiana's needs, market demand for our programs, and budgetary constraints," the statement said. "Most importantly, all of these actions were intended to ensure the future of our institutions."

The AAUP, however, said that in the case of Southeastern, the university's actions have done more harm than good. The closure of the programs and the loss of the professors—one of whom is now an instructor at the university (the other two retired)­—was covered in national, state, and local media. "The overwhelmingly consistent message was that the actions against the three tenured professors were dreadfully mistaken and demanded correction," the report says. "Any financial savings achieved through the terminations were grossly offset by the cost to Southeastern Louisiana University's reputation."

Although the professors at Southeastern had hearings before a body of their peers, unlike the terminated faculty at Northwestern State, the AAUP said in its report that academic freedom at Southeastern appears to be in a more tenuous state than at Northwestern State. An "increasing number of faculty members indicated fear of retaliation if they were seen as speaking or writing candidly in opposition to the current administration's leadership," the report says.

All correspondence between the University of Louisiana system and the AAUP, including a marked-up version of the AAUP's report, can be found on the system's Web site.

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