“I Was a Threat Because I Wouldn’t Be Quiet”

An investigative report released today by the American Association of University Professors concludes that the administration of Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, summarily dismissed Erlene Grise-Owens, a long-serving professor of social work, in blatant violation of academic freedom and due process. An AAUP investigating committee visited Louisville and interviewed Professor Grise-Owens and other current and former Spalding faculty members. Members of the Spalding administration declined to meet with the committee.

The report finds that Spalding’s administration abruptly terminated Professor Grise-Owens’s tenured appointment because she criticized the administration’s handling of an incident involving a student who brought a gun to a campus parking lot, showed it to a fellow student, and said, “I am tired of these people f--cking with me.” The social work school’s chair immediately alerted social work faculty about the incident—except the school’s three faculty members of color, even though the student was scheduled to attend class with one of them the next day.

Professor Grise-Owens and two other faculty members formally complained to the administration about its failure to notify the faculty members of color about the incident. After the administration dismissed their complaint as groundless, they brought it in person to the faculty senate. Soon after their meeting with the senate, Professor Grise-Owens received notice of dismissal, which lacked any reference to her procedural rights. Following the administration’s action, the other two faculty members resigned, one stating, “I cannot be part of such a system, and I will not be part of a system that continuously models disparity between principles and actions and in so doing puts my life and the lives of my students in harm’s way.” The investigating committee found that Grise-Owens was dismissed for “speaking out against institutional policies and practices she deemed inadequate” or as one faculty member put it, for “doing what all tenured faculty should do” and “being connected to the marginalized voices.”

The AAUP conducts investigations annually in a few select cases in which faculty members allege that severe departures from widely accepted academic standards have occurred and persist despite efforts to achieve an appropriate resolution. In academic freedom and tenure cases, the AAUP may place an institution on its list of censured administrations. The censure list informs the academic community and the public at large that conditions for academic freedom and tenure at the institution are unsound.


The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) champions academic freedom, advances shared governance, and promotes economic security for all who teach and conduct research in higher education. Since 1915, the AAUP has shaped American higher education by defending standards that support quality education and ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good.

Media Contact: 
Joerg Tiede - jtiede@aaup.org / 202-594-3624
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, May 16, 2017