Developments Relating to Association Censure

The Association’s staff has prepared the following brief accounts of significant developments during the past year at institutions that appear on the AAUP’s list of administrations censured for serious departures from AAUP-supported standards of academic freedom and tenure. The staff has no significant developments this past year to report regarding institutions on the AAUP’s list of institutions sanctioned for infringing AAUP-supported governance standards. For information about the current status of other institutions on our sanction and censure lists (printed respectively on pages 42 and 43 of this issue), please contact the Association’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance.

St. Bonaventure University (New York), 1996

The published report found that the administration, in terminating the appointments of eighteen tenured professors on grounds of financial exigency, acted in contravention of the joint 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and derivative Association-supported standards by failing to provide adjudicative hearings before a faculty body and by refusing to allow the presence of counsel in the appeals process. The president, in subsequently denying reappointment to an assistant professor, made an unsupported aspersion about the professor’s character that Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure found reprehensible.

Settlements have been reached in all of the above-noted cases that were contested. Still to be achieved, however, is the adoption of acceptable policies for terminating appointments on grounds of financial exigency. During the last four years, the AAUP has assisted the current president, provost, and AAUP chapter leaders in their efforts to reach agreement regarding new faculty handbook provisions on financial exigency that comport with AAUP-recommended standards. This past February the St. Bonaventure administration wrote to inform the staff that the faculty had approved proposed amendments to the financial exigency provisions in the faculty handbook and that the board of trustees would be voting at its next meeting on whether to adopt them. The board has done so, and Committee A thus will consider recommending removal of censure to the 2013 annual meeting.

Lawrence Technological University (Michigan), 1998

An investigating committee’s report found that not even minimal safeguards of academic due process were afforded to a tenured professor whose appointment was terminated when his program was eliminated. The case was settled after he initiated litigation, and two additional cases the following year were resolved with out-of-court settlements.

In fall 2011, another tenured Lawrence Technological University professor sought help from the Association after having been subject to what the Association’s staff characterized as a severe sanction without the affordance of a faculty hearing. The staff wrote to the university’s president to convey its concerns about the academic freedom and procedural issues raised in the professor’s case and to urge administrative officers to adhere to AAUP-supported procedural standards if they followed through on their stated intention of initiating dismissal proceedings. In August 2012, when a new president assumed office, the staff wrote to apprise him of its interest in the administration’s taking steps to remove censure. In September, the staff wrote again to convey the Association’s continued concerns in the case of the sanctioned professor, against whom dismissal proceedings had by then been initiated, urging that the administration adhere to AAUP-supported procedural standards in its action against him. In December, the faculty hearing panel found that the administration had failed to establish adequate cause for dismissing the professor, and in January the administration concurred. The staff informed the new president that, with this case no longer at issue, all that remained for removal of the censure was adoption of revisions to the university’s official regulations that would bring them into essential compliance with Association-supported standards. Further word is awaited.

Our Lady of Holy Cross College (Louisiana), 2007

The censure resulted from the college president’s actions to dismiss the elected faculty senate president during the spring semester and banish him from campus while paying him for the remaining weeks of his one-year contract. The senate president had objected, and continued to object, to the college president’s refusal to implement a revised salary schedule. The college president provided no reasons to the dismissed professor for the summary action against him. Pressed by the Association’s investigating committee to explain, he said only that he had acted “for the good of the college.”

In August 2011, the college president was himself dismissed without advance warning or explanation by the religious order that owns the college. An interim president encouraged development of a revised faculty handbook that would include some basic AAUP-recommended provisions that are protective of academic freedom and due process, and a new president, upon taking office last summer, promptly wrote to convey his wish to see the censure removed. In November, he reported the governing board’s adoption of a revised faculty handbook that includes provisions for multiyear faculty appointments and the Association’s recommended standards relating to financial exigency. On the matter of redress for the dismissed professor, the college president and the AAUP chapter president met with the affected professor in March. No result can as yet be reported.

Nicholls State University, 2009; Northwestern State University, 2012; Southeastern Louisiana University, 2012

These three institutions on the Association’s censure list are components of the nine-member University of Louisiana system.

The Nicholls State censure resulted from an investigation that concluded that the administration had dismissed an instructor after twelve years of full-time service without providing advance notice, stated cause, or opportunity for a hearing. No plausible reason for her dismissal could be ascertained other than displeasure with the number of failing grades she had assigned to her students in college algebra.

The Northwestern State and Southeastern Louisiana censures resulted from an investigation of program discontinuances and the ensuing termination of faculty appointments in the University of Louisiana system. The investigating committee’s report concluded that the Northwestern State administration terminated the appointments of eighteen professors in utter disregard for their tenure rights; that meaningful faculty tenure does not exist at the institution; and that, without chief administrative officers who respect a tenure system, academic freedom remains insecure. With respect to Southeastern Louisiana, where the termination of faculty appointments was confined to the three tenured professors of French, the report concluded that the administration declined to provide the professors or the faculty bodies that unanimously supported them with the reasons for its action and offered no rebuttal to subsequent faculty recommendations that the professors be retained in their tenured positions. The report, noting an increase in faculty fear of retaliation for speaking candidly in opposition to the current administration, concluded that at Southeastern, as at Northwestern State, the climate for academic freedom was poor. Finally, the report concluded that the departures from AAUP-supported policies at the two institutions could not have been accomplished without the assistance of the UL system’s central administration and governing board.

The system president at the time of the investigation and of the imposition of censure retired from office, and his successor assumed the presidency on January 1. She expressed interest in visiting with AAUP staff officers in Washington, and the meeting took place in early March. There was candid discussion of problems and challenges confronting the system because of state underfunding, and the president appeared receptive to learning the staff’s views on what she might do to resolve existing concerns in each of the three cases.

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, 2012

The 2012 annual meeting placed Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, on the Association’s list of censured administrations. The action was based on an investigating committee’s report concerning two cases that were different in the administrative officers involved and in the matters under dispute but alike in putting core issues of academic freedom to the test. The first case, affecting a nontenured associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in his seventeenth year of full-time service on the faculty, tested the relationship between freedom of research and publication and freedom of extramural utterance in a politically charged atmosphere. The second case, affecting a tenured full professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in her thirtyfirst year on the faculty, tested the freedom of a classroom teacher to assign student grades as she saw fit.

The subject of the first case served on renewable term appointments. For years, his work in coastal erosion and in hurricane- and flood-related issues brought him public prominence and consistently favorable evaluations. The August 2005 onslaught of Hurricane Katrina placed the faculty member in a national spotlight that the LSU authorities were initially happy to share. Their view of him changed, however, after he found that a main cause of flooding was structural failure of the levees overseen by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Anticipating cooperation and support from the corps in coastal restoration projects, LSU administrators expressed resentment over having been linked in the press with these findings and took steps to restrain the faculty member’s public activities, to distance LSU from those activities, and subsequently to deny him further appointment.

The investigating committee concluded that the administration did not provide the faculty member the academic due process to which he was entitled under AAUP-recommended standards and violated his academic freedom in a number of ways: by denying him reappointment largely in retaliation for his dissent from the prevailing LSU position on the levees and the New Orleans flooding, by restricting the nature of his research, and by punishing him for exercising his extramural speech rights as a citizen.

The tenured professor of biology, the subject of the second case, had been repeatedly commended for teaching excellence and praised particularly for her “rigorous approach” and “demanding coursework” in teaching upper-level courses. In spring 2010, in order to “pitch in,” she agreed to teach a section of an introductory course for the first time in fifteen years. The grades she assigned for the first test struck the course’s coordinator as too low, and he suggested more leniency. Her midterm grades, however, were strongly skewed to grades of D and F. The matter was referred to the college dean, who, without having consulted with the professor, removed her from teaching the course. The coordinator then raised each student’s grade on the first examination before allowing the professor to enter her grades for a second. When she asked the dean to hear her explanation for the grades and reconsider, he replied that he was receptive to discussion but that his decision stood.

After LSU’s Faculty Grievance Committee found unanimously in her favor, the administrators assured the committee that the senate was “developing an improved policy” on issues relating to student grading. The college dean apologized to the professor for not having met with her in person to tell her she was being removed from the course, but he did not apologize, as the grievance committee had recommended, for having failed to consult with her before he acted.

The investigating committee concluded that the LSU administration violated the professor’s right to assign student grades and, in peremptorily removing her from a course that was in progress, violated her academic freedom to teach. The committee concluded further that the administration’s imposing the severe sanction of suspension on her, without opportunity for a faculty hearing, denied her basic protections of academic due process.

The faculty member in engineering whose services had been terminated filed suit in federal district court following his dismissal. This winter he reached a financial settlement with the university. “It was a good win,” the professor remarked to the press. “I think we achieved what we wanted: LSU knows it cannot deny academic freedom and get away with it. . . . This wasn’t about the money. It was really about academic freedom.”

The faculty member in biology has received an apology, and the administrators responsible for the actions against her have moved on.

Deficiencies in official LSU policies remain, however.