January 13, 1010
Washington, DC ─ The administration at Clark Atlanta University (CAU) used a largely nonexistent “enrollment emergency” as a pretext when it fired one-fourth of the total faculty, effective immediately, in the middle of the spring 2009 semester, finds a new AAUP investigating committee report. In doing so, CAU violated fundamental AAUP principles as well as provisions of the university’s faculty handbook, and ignored the basic concept of academic due process. These are but some of the findings of arbitrary administrative behavior revealed by a new AAUP investigating committee report.
The report was produced by a committee of AAUP members with no previous involvement in the situation who reviewed extensive documentation and interviewed current and former faculty and administrators.
Among the report’s main findings:
The claim that the university was in the midst of an “enrollment emergency” was unsubstantiated and indeed was contradicted by a former administrator responsible for managing enrollments, suggesting that the claim was a pretext to justify dismissing faculty members.
The administration selected some sixty faculty members for release based mainly on its unsubstantiated assessment of their lack of merit, effectively dismissing them for cause but without any demonstration of what the cause was.
The dismissed professors were denied basic academic due process to which they were entitled under the university’s own regulations as well as under AAUP-supported standards.
The four weeks of severance salary offered by the administration to all the fired faculty members was sorely deficient.
The administration pressured vulnerable faculty members to forfeit any right to appeal their dismissal and to release the university from any further claims by offering a modest additional amount of severance pay—two to eight weeks.
The administration made no serious or good-faith effort to consult with faculty before taking the drastic step of terminating a quarter of the faculty and, in fact, showed consistent disregard for established faculty governance bodies.
The AAUP is well aware of the challenges that currently face many higher education institutions. The case of Clark Atlanta University, however, provides a negative object lesson in how to address those challenges—with arbitrary administrative actions grounded in insufficient evidence (and undertaken in some cases against the evidence), without consultation with the faculty, and with total disregard for academic due process, not to mention good management and basic decency. At stake are not just the jobs of individual professors and collective faculty rights, but also educational quality, the students, the university, and the larger community that it purports to serve.
The full report is available. The Association’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure authorized the publication of the report. Committee A, when reporting in June to the AAUP’s 2010 Annual Meeting, will present a statement on Clark Atlanta University that may include a recommendation for imposing censure. Also, see more information on how Committee A works. For more information, please contact Robin Burns.
The American Association of University Professors is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process, shared governance and standards of quality in higher education. The AAUP has over 48,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the United States.