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A Flood of Censure

June 11, 2007

The American Association of University Professors placed six colleges and universities on its censure list Saturday -- more colleges than have been censured the same year in at least a decade.

Four of the institutions were censured for violations of faculty rights in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. These four are Loyola University New Orleans, Southern University at New Orleans, Tulane University and the University of New Orleans. Those four universities were among five that the AAUP studied in depth as part of a special investigation of the way faculty members were treated as institutions dealt with the hurricane's aftermath. While a report last month on those five also criticized the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center for violations of faculty rights, AAUP leaders said that they had been impressed with recent commitments made by that institution's administrators, and so no censure vote was taken against LSU.

Two other institutions -- Bastyr University and Our Lady of Holy Cross College -- were censured for the way faculty members lost their jobs. And two universities, New Mexico Highlands and Tiffin Universities, were removed from the censure list, based on recent actions taken by new administrations to remedy problems identified by the AAUP.

Most of the censure discussion Saturday, at the AAUP's annual meeting, focused on the Katrina institutions, and the four universities' leaders were condemned repeatedly, with strong language, emotional stories from professors who lost their jobs or worked with those who did, and calls for the AAUP to find new ways to punish institutions, going beyond censure.

Not all of the institutions censured could be reached over the weekend, but most had previously objected to the AAUP's findings. And several that did respond to the AAUP vote did so with language that matched the association's -- accusing it of getting facts wrong and applying standards that were unfair in light of the unprecedented events of Katrina.

The Katrina Findings

David M. Rabban, a professor of law at the University of Texas at Austin and chair of the AAUP committee that reviews academic freedom cases, said that the association recognized the "severity" and "uniqueness" of Katrina's impact on the colleges involved -- and that the situation no doubt forced colleges to make painful decisions. He added that even under AAUP guidelines, there are ways colleges can make deep cuts, including those that eliminate the positions of tenured professors, without violating principles of shared governance.

Had the New Orleans colleges followed their own guidelines, he said, professors would have had some say in devising the plans. "Pre-Katrina policies would have worked in response to the Katrina emergency," he said. Instead, there was "a pervasive lack of due process" and "a pervasive disregard for faculty governance," he said.

Faculty members -- their voices breaking at times -- described their shock at how they were treated by institutions to which they had devoted their careers. Mary Blue, who lost her tenured job at Loyola after 26 years in the communications department, talked of how she and colleagues stayed in touch with displaced students immediately after Katrina -- at the professors' own expense making calls and traveling as far away as Nebraska in her case to meet with students and to encourage them to return to Loyola. More than 90 percent did so, and then the university started eliminating positions of people who had helped make that possible.

Blue currently has a visiting job at Tulane -- at half her old salary.

Denise Strong, who teaches urban affairs and public administration at the University of New Orleans, said professors immediately realized that huge sacrifices would be required. But she said that she was most struck by the "callousness" with which decisions were made without talking to professors. Many faculty members were willing to take pay cuts, unpaid leaves, additional duties, or to brainstorm about how to deal with the crisis.

"We expected to be engaged, to help," Strong said. "We wanted to help rebuild our university."

Instead, she said, plans were formulated that eliminated positions and programs -- without any meaningful faculty consultation. "It's the absence of humanity" that is so distressing, she said.

Specifically, the AAUP faulted the New Orleans institutions it censured for the following reasons:

  • Loyola University: adopting a reorganization plan that resulted in the elimination of the jobs of 17 professors -- 11 of them with tenure -- without faculty involvement or due process as required by the university's rules.
  • Southern University: adopting a plan that placed some professors on furloughs and eliminated others' jobs and that made sweeping changes in academic offerings, without any faculty consultation.
  • Tulane University: adopting academic changes -- notably the controversial elimination of engineering programs -- based officially on Katrina, but apparently motivated by academic priority shifts that the administration wanted to carry out despite faculty opposition.
  • University of New Orleans: making decisions about which positions to eliminate without appropriate regard for tenure status or faculty involvement.

Details of the association's analysis of the way the universities reacted to Katrina are available on the AAUP Web site. A general theme of speakers at the meeting was that some administrators used the Katrina crisis as an excuse to make changes that would have been blocked otherwise -- and that were not necessary to deal with Katrina. Speakers also noted that two of the universities censured, Tulane and Loyola, were not as damaged as other institutions, had significant endowments, and yet still moved to eliminate programs and jobs.

One professor who attended the meeting in Washington asked why reports were not presented on Dillard and Xavier Universities, two private historically black colleges in New Orleans that also have had to make significant cuts. (Dillard's campus was particularly devastated.) AAUP officials said that they had been unable to find professors at Dillard and Xavier to speak to, and that no conclusions should be drawn on how those institutions handled Katrina.

Tulane issued a statement after the AAUP vote Saturday in which it called the report on which the professors voted to censure the institution a "deeply flawed, factually inaccurate document riddled with erroneous information and contradictions that do not support its own conclusions or AAUP doctrine. " The university statement added: "The AAUP report is a disservice to the values for which AAUP stands and to the thousands of individuals, including those at Tulane, who have suffered through the worst natural disaster in the history of the U.S."

The university also posted on its Web site a series of exchanges between AAUP and Tulane officials on the issues involved.

The Rev. Kevin Wildes, Loyola's president, issued a statement in which he said that "no university administration relishes the possibility of being censured." But he noted that a fellow Jesuit institution had been censured for 25 years (ending in 1997) and was a "strong vibrant university" despite the AAUP's criticism, just as he said Loyola would be.

As to the substance of the AAUP's findings, Father Wildes said that the association failed to understand the realities Katrina created. "We find it astonishing the AAUP would censure universities forced to operate under the urgent and enormous pressures they faced and continue to face in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- especially, sharp declines in enrollments with the multiple-year impacts they entail," he said. "Survival of Loyola University New Orleans was dependent on immediate and decisive action by the administration. The administration could not allow Loyola University to be added to the list of organizations that failed the people of the region after Katrina. The AAUP would have had Loyola make decisions in a time frame which was not designed for the crisis we face and continue to face."

Father Wildes also said that the AAUP failed to correct errors that Loyola had pointed out to the association in documents the university released.

The Non-Katrina Censure Votes

Two institutions were censured for reasons unrelated to Katrina.

Bastyr University, a health sciences institutions outside Seattle that combines Eastern and non-traditional teachings with Western medicine, was faulted over its use of "at will," non-tenured employment and this system's relationship to the way three long-time faculty members lost jobs. In all three cases, those who lost jobs had disputes with their superiors -- and no meaningful appeals process to use. The AAUP report on Bastyr said that its employment system was antithetical to real academic freedom and shared governance. Bastyr told the AAUP that its faculty members were aware of the university's employment system and freely decided to work there.

Our Lady of Holy Cross College was censured for the firing of the professor who was president of the Faculty Senate. The college is in New Orleans, but the AAUP determined that the issues had nothing to do with Katrina so the case was evaluated separately. In the case, the Rev. Anthony G. DeConciliis, the college's president, fired Elroy Eckhardt after the two had a series of disagreements over a plan to make faculty salaries more equitable. Eckhardt was fired while representing faculty interests in governance and with no opportunity for a hearing or appeal, the AAUP found. Father DeConciliis told the AAUP: "I am committed to collaborative decision making; however, in some cases, the common good of the college must be primary."

Removal of Censure

Two other institutions were removed from the censure list.

New Mexico Highlands University was censured last year for ignoring the rights of two professors who were denied tenure -- in one case ignoring faculty committees' findings that a case may not have been decided properly and in the other case dismissing and banishing from campus a professor who was denied tenure, but who not completed his time at the university. In the last year, the president who as blamed for the situation left, and the new administration made settlements with the former professors and changed various policies to assure due process in the tenure and dismissal process.

The New Mexico Highlands case is typical of those in which institutions are removed from the censure list in that a new administration agreed to changes sought by the AAUP, but the case was unusual in its speed -- it is rare for institutions to come off the censure list after only a year.

Tiffin University, in Ohio, was on the list from 2002 until Saturday. Tiffin was faulted for its dismissal of a professor who had been working without tenure for 12 years and the absence of systems of tenure or due process. The university has since settled with the dismissed professors and changed its policies in ways the AAUP determined were consistent with its principles.

 

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