Terminations of Tenured Faculty Appointments at SUBR

By Jenn Nichols

An AAUP investigating committee’s report on Southern University, Baton Rouge, focuses on the termination of nineteen tenured faculty appointments in spring 2012. The actions followed a declaration of financial exigency in October 2011 by Southern University’s board of supervisors in response to a budgetary shortfall and a concurrent plan to reorganize SUBR by reducing the number of its colleges from nine to five. After faculty-led efforts in fall 2011 to implement a voluntary faculty furlough failed to achieve the administration’s target of a 90 percent participation rate, the SUBR chancellor and the Southern University system president recommended that the system’s board of supervisors declare financial exigency in order to move forward both with a mandated furlough for all faculty members and with selected layoffs of nineteen tenured faculty members. New procedures for financial emergencies, adopted during the same October meeting at which the board voted to declare a state of financial exigency, excluded the faculty from the planning and implementation process and allowed for the termination of tenured faculty appointments with thirty days’ notice and no provision for a hearing before a faculty committee.

The AAUP report deals with the decision to declare financial exigency, the procedures for terminating appointments, and the role of the faculty in developing the restructuring plan. The faculty senate had asserted that the budgetary shortfall stemmed in significant part from the administration’s decision to shift money from the academic budget to the athletics program and the laboratory school. After exigency was declared, the chancellor mandated a 10 percent furlough for the entire faculty, and the provost instructed department chairs to submit, within a period of days, recommendations of department colleagues to be targeted for layoff.

A first round of termination notices were issued in mid- February 2012, followed by a second round beginning in late May, before the exigency period ended. In some cases, department chairs were unaware that members of their departments had been selected for layoff. Professors who received notice had seven business days to file an appeal with the chancellor. All appeals to him were denied except for one from an appellant who had been notified erroneously. Three professors then filed appeals with the board, which at one brief meeting issued a blanket rejection of the appeals.

As appointment terminations were being decided in late fall 2011, the provost convened a committee of deans and the faculty senate president to discuss a reorganization of SUBR’s academic structure. The committee received draft copies of a plan but took no votes, and the restructuring plan was announced in the local news in spring 2012, the day after the faculty learned that the plan was about to be presented to the board.

The Association’s investigating committee concluded that the SUBR administration, in declaring financial exigency, restructuring the academic program without consulting the faculty, and terminating nineteen tenured faculty appointments, disregarded AAUP-supported procedures, thereby weakening the climate for academic freedom that tenure is designed to protect. Of particular concern to the committee was the administration’s virtual exclusion of the university’s faculty from the decision-making process and the woefully short notice provided to senior professors whose positions were terminated.