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Victory for Tenure Rights in Louisiana

By Jordan E. Kurland

At a time when the news about faculty tenure rights has been grim in many public higher education systems, recent events at one of Louisiana’s three university systems brought a welcome reminder that faculty action can be effective— even in the most challenging circumstances.

The University of Louisiana System consists of eight regional public universities that are not included in the flagship Louisiana State University System or the historically black Southern University System. Over the past few years, the UL System—which already had weaker tenure policies than the other two—has suffered more than the others from underfinancing and rapid administrative turnover, and more of its faculty members have registered complaints with the AAUP.

Last June, the system’s faculty became aware of a new policy for “Academic Program Reduction and/or Discontinuance” drafted by administrative officers. The policy would give the administration of each of the system’s institutions the authority to terminate the portion of a program that constituted a particular faculty member’s instructional load and then to terminate the instructor’s appointment without any declaration of financial exigency or evaluation of the program’s educational soundness. Moreover, a faculty member with tenure, who under existing system policy would receive a year’s notice of involuntary termination as the AAUP recommends, could suffer termination of appointment with only a semester or a quarter of notice under the new policy.

The AAUP’s national staff promptly provided AAUP and faculty senate officers in the system as well as our Louisiana state conference officers with an analysis of the proposed new policy. Faculty officers on several system campuses followed with letters of concern addressed to the local chancellor and to the system’s president and its board of supervisors. Louisiana conference president William F. Stewart, in a July 15 letter addressed to the state’s commissioner of higher education, stated that the proposed new policy represented “a repudiation of the faculty’s role in the governance of system campuses, a dilution of the meaning of financial exigency, and a trivialization of the meaning of academic tenure.” Copies of the conference’s letter went to the system’s president and board of supervisors and to the governor of Louisiana.

News that the proposed policy was on the agenda for action at a board of supervisors meeting on August 27 led to a flurry of media attention in Louisiana and beyond. Faculty members were quoted predicting that the policy would be disastrous for education, and presidents and provosts in rebuttal were predicting avoidance of further damage. On the eve of the August 27 meeting, the Chronicle of Higher Education quoted the AAUP’s Jordan Kurland as saying that the policy “can be used as a device for [university officials] to remove a person they don’t want by simply removing what that person is teaching.”

To the happy surprise of Louisiana faculty members, the UL board of supervisors on August 27 did the unexpected: it voted unanimously to defer consideration of the proposed policy. Moreover, board members expressed a wish to consult with faculty groups before any further consideration occurs. The Louisiana state conference executive committee, sending its commendations to the UL board of supervisors, said that it was especially important to the AAUP for the board to have recognized the need to take faculty viewpoints into account.

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