Nunez Community College’s Dismissal of Professor Was Likely Retaliatory

According to an AAUP investigative report released today, the most plausible explanation for the dismissal of Professor Richard Schmitt from Nunez Community College was that it occured as a retaliatory measure, violating his academic freedom. Schmitt, a nontenured associate professor of English with twenty-two years of service at the institution, had disagreed with the administration over the accuracy of an accreditation report. The college administration offered no reason for the termination, but the investigating committee concluded that the administration’s actions violated Professor Schmitt’s academic freedom.

Schmitt was informed during a conference call that his appointment was not to be renewed. In blatant disregard of commonly accepted standards in higher education, he was given no due process for contesting his termination, no dismissal hearing, and no reason for the decision not to renew his contract.

Nunez Community College, located in Chalmette, Louisiana, does not have a formal tenure system, and appoints all of its instructors on contracts of one year or less, in violation of the widely accepted academic standards codified by the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. That statement, jointly formulated by the AAUP and the American Association of Colleges and Universities, has been endorsed by more than 250 scholarly and educational groups. Because he had served well past an acceptable probationary period, AAUP standards recognize Schmitt’s appointment to be with de facto continuous tenure. Accordingly, he should be dismissed only for cause or as a result of institutional financial exigency or program closures for educational reasons.

The administration’s decision not to renew Schmitt’s appointment came after his disagreement with the administration over the accuracy of a report to be supplied to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the college’s regional accreditor. Schmitt served in the position as program manager for general studies, which included responsibilities for documenting student learning outcomes. The administration hired a consultant to assist with the creation of required reports for the accreditor, but Schmitt and the consultant disagreed about material used in the reports. The disagreements came to a head when Schmitt emailed administrators and the consultant that he was concerned about material that he had prepared for a report to the accreditor being excluded. He offered to resign as program manager and the administration accepted his resignation. Three weeks after this incident, Schmitt noticed that documents to be sent to the accreditor still listed him as the author, even though he had not completed them. He asked for his name to be removed from the documents as he had “had very little to do with” their “final production,” adding that he sought “neither credit nor accountability for reports that bear only vague resemblance to the documents” he had drafted. The following week the chancellor denied his request. He was subsequently informed that his annual contract would not be renewed as it had been for the previous twenty-two years.

The administration’s abrupt nonrenewal of Schmitt’s appointment, without stated cause, after more than two decades of service, constitutes a gross violation of the protections of academic due process, and in the absence of any stated cause for the administration’s actions and on the basis of the available information, must be deemed a retaliatory measure that violated his academic freedom.

At its June meeting, the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure will consider whether to recommend to the AAUP’s annual meeting that censure be imposed on the Nunez Community College administration for substantial noncompliance with AAUP-supported standards of academic freedom and tenure.

Click here to read the full report

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, February 12, 2019