Academic Freedom and Tenure: Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, A Supplementary Report on a Censured Administration

This supplementary report raises questions about the dismissal of professor Teresa Buchanan from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, which has been on the AAUP’s list of censured administrations since 2012.

Buchanan, a specialist in early childhood education with an unblemished eighteen-year performance record, was being evaluated for promotion to full professorship when a district school superintendent and an LSU student filed complaints against her, alleging sexual harassment as defined by LSU. Her dean immediately suspended her from teaching, and eventually, despite a faculty hearing committee’s unanimous recommendation against dismissal, the LSU board of supervisors accepted the administration’s recommendation that she be dismissed.

Buchanan was a highly productive scholar and teacher. She had a strong publication record and an excellent record of participation in university service. Buchanan was supported in her bid for full professor by outside reviewers, the promotion and tenure committee, and the deans of her college and the graduate school.

Buchanan’s situation underwent drastic change on December 20, 2013, when she received a communication from her dean stating that “serious concerns” had been raised about her “inappropriate statements.”  Buchanan was known for occasional use of profanity, but any previous complaints apparently were not serious enough to become part of her performance record. 

The administration’s Office of Human Resource Management investigated and found her guilty of sexual harassment.

Subsequently, a faculty hearing committee was formed, in accordance with LSU’s policies. It found unanimously that “removal with cause” should not be contemplated, though it also faulted Buchanan for having violated LSU’s policies on sexual harassment by “her use of profanity, poorly worded jokes, and sometimes sexually explicit ‘jokes’ in her methodologies.” The committee found no evidence that this behavior was “systematically directed at any particular individual,” however, only that “some individuals observing the behaviors were disturbed.”

The report raises questions about three issues:

  • The first issue relates to the administration’s immediate action to suspend, upon learning that a school superintendent and a student teacher had accused Buchanan of making “inappropriate statements.” Buchanan’s eighteen-year record was devoid of any mention of misconduct, and her application for promotion was on its way to the provost’s desk. Why did the administrators not talk to Buchanan rather than simply announce a series of drastic actions?
     
  • The second issue relates to investigation of the charges. Why did the administration have the charges investigated by Office of Human Resource Management personnel instead of proceeding from the outset in accordance with LSU’s policies, which call for a faculty committee? Once the faculty committee did consider the case and issue a unanimous recommendation against a severe sanction, why was its recommendation not heeded or reported in the public explanation of the dismissal?
     
  • The third issue relates to Louisiana State University’s level of tolerance for speech that people may find offensive. Many commentators have noted that given the low number of complaints about Buchanan’s profanity and sexual references, the tolerance by the LSU administration seems astonishingly low for a public university.

The LSU supplementary report on a censured administration issued today is one of only seven such reports issued in the AAUP’s century of existence. It identifies significant new issues that will have to be resolved before the AAUP can remove the censure. Censure by the AAUP informs the academic community that the administration of an institution has not adhered to generally recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure.