Supplementary Report on LSU Censure

By Jordan E. Kurland

The Louisiana State University administration, thwarted last year in its stated desire to achieve removal of AAUP censure because of its unwillingness to adopt policy affording academic due process to senior full-time faculty members in non-tenure-track positions, is now the subject of a supplementary report on issues of academic freedom and due process in the dismissal of a tenured professor.

The faculty member, a specialist in early childhood education with an unblemished eighteen-year record of positive performance, was being evaluated for a full professorship when an LSU student and a district school superintendent filed complaints against her. Her college dean, who a month earlier had concurred in her promotion, suspended her from teaching duties pending an investigation. She subsequently learned that the investigation was being conducted by the human resources management office, which, six months after suspension was imposed, found her guilty of sexual harassment. She denied sexually harassing anyone, acknowledging only the occasional use of profanity and perhaps an off-color joke in her teaching methodologies.

The administration initiated dismissal procedures, resulting in a recorded adjudicative proceeding before a committee of faculty peers. The hearing committee’s findings, all unanimous, were that some individuals observing her questionable behavior were apparently disturbed by it but that there was no evidence of its having been directed against any particular individual and thus that dismissal of the professor for cause should not be considered. 

LSU’s chief administrative officer, however, notified the professor that he was recommending to the governing board that she be dismissed, primarily on the basis of the human resources management conclusion that she had violated LSU policies relating to sexual harassment. The professor’s written appeal and three minutes of oral testimony allowed her notwithstanding, the board followed the chief officer’s bidding.

In conveying the AAUP’s concerns to LSU’s chief officer, the staff remarked on “how distant the LSU administration has placed itself from the mainstream of our secular research universities by dismissing a professor for misconduct simply for having used language that is not only run-of-the-mill these days for much of the academic community but is also protected conduct under principles of academic freedom.” Having received no substantive response, the AAUP has issued a supplementary report, a rare step in the censure process that is taken only after a truly egregious new development. The practice of imposing censure and publicizing a censure list began in 1930, and the AAUP’s first supplementary report, resulting from an especially troubling action at what was then Troy State University, appeared in 1980. A total of only six such reports have been published, the most recent in 2012 regarding the Savannah College of Art and Design. LSU is the seventh in thirty-five years, a period in which over a hundred censures have been imposed.

In addition to the supplementary report, which is now available on the AAUP’s website, a lawsuit initiated by the dismissed professor has received support for the issues under litigation from the AAUP Foundation’s Academic Freedom Fund. The fund has also made a modest grant to the dismissed professor under a provision allowing temporary assistance for personal needs to faculty members in academic freedom cases who suffer abrupt unemployment.