Investigation at Nunez Community College

By Hans-Joerg Tiede

The AAUP recently published the report of an investigation at Nunez Community College in Chalmette, Louisiana, concerning the administration’s action to terminate the services of Richard Schmitt, an associate professor of English. The investigating committee concluded that the action was taken in apparent violation of his academic freedom and without affording Schmitt a dismissal hearing to which he was entitled as the result of having obtained de facto tenure at the institution after twenty-two years of service. Nunez Community College does not have a formal tenure system.

The decision to terminate Schmitt’s services followed his disagreement with the administration over the veracity of information to be supplied to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS), the college’s regional accreditor. An accreditation visit in 2017 had found that the institution had failed to document student success. Shortly after the arrival of a new chancellor in 2018, the administration found itself under pressure to complete monitoring reports for submission to the accreditor.

When Schmitt, who as general studies program manager had responsibility for the completion of reports on the program, expressed concern that reports he had produced were not being included in the material to be submitted to SACS, the administration relieved him of his role as program manager. He later learned that the administration was submitting reports not prepared by him to SACS under his name and requested that his name be removed. The administration denied his request.

The chancellor subsequently informed Schmitt that his services would be terminated, first in a phone call, in which the chancellor stated that he was “not a good fit” at the institution, and subsequently in a letter, which declined to provide reasons for the decision, pointing instead to his status as an “at-will employee.” In response to his written appeal, the chancellor stated that the decision was “not a reflection of your work record or behavior. Nor does it diminish the past contributions you have made to the college. Your time and service to the college is appreciated.”

The report observes, “In the absence of any stated cause for the administration’s actions and on the basis of the available information, the investigating committee is left to conclude that the termination of Professor Schmitt’s services was a retaliatory measure taken in violation of his academic freedom.”