Ever wonder how to get rid of tenured faculty? Kill the whole department! Any fool knows that.
That’s what they are doing at the University of Louisiana, where the Cognitive Science PhD program (the only one in the state) is being shut down and two faculty will be cut loose by 2013. The program is, in administration-speak, a “low completer,” which means it is producing too few graduates to be continued. According to this local news story, “in a three year period it produced five graduates,” although by increasing the window to five years, the number of graduates rises to 10 graduates. When this was revealed it looked like the program would be saved. But no dice. (We wonder at Tenured Radical — how many graduates would have saved the program? 12? 15? And could the same number of faculty have supervised the research of a significantly larger number of students?) Initial commitments to tenured faculty in Cognitive Science that they would be relocated elsewhere in the university have also been withdrawn, although Interim Provost and VPAA Carolyn Bruder has said she would write them a letter of recommendation for their next job.
As my hero Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson of “The Closer” (who is from Georgia, not Louisiana) would say with a fake smile on her face, “Thank yew – thank you so very much!” I’m sure a letter from a provost explaining that you were fired due to budget cuts will help these faculty, and the ones UL plans to fire in the future, enormously as they remake their entire lives in middle age. According to this story, the firings are backed by a set of policy changes enacted in the university that allow far greater lattitude for tenure to be broken, although “UL System and UL-Lafayette officials said the new termination policies did not factor into the recent tenured faculty layoffs.” The system is currently being sued by 14 full-time French instructors who were axed when the university dissolved its bachelor’s degree program in French, although the tenure-line faculty were protected in that round of layoffs.
In both cases, there is a startling absence of assertions by the university that these were not academically excellent programs, or that they did not contribute to the overall excellence of the university. In fact, there appears to be no logic at all as to why these faculty and not others except, of course that tenured faculty in a small program tend not to be politically influential in the institution and instructors have no tenure at all and can be discarded like a used Kleenex. While I don’t know much about cognitive science, as a historian I would like to highlight the simple fact that Louisiana was initially colonized by French people and continues to have connections to Francophone culture: it strikes me a downright strange that the university should suddenly abandon a program that addresses the distinctiveness of its region.