In February, the eight-campus University of Louisiana System approved changes in its procedures for dismissing tenured professors that faculty leaders said could significantly erode the protections of tenure.
On Monday, the American Association of University Professors issued a statement denouncing recent actions by the university system as demonstrating just how weak those rights now are in the university system. Two of its campuses, according to the AAUP, have eliminated tenured jobs and then subsequently offered the laid-off academics non-tenure-track positions teaching the same subjects.
"If senior professors with tenure can be fired and then immediately offered employment as short-term instructors, then tenure is essentially meaningless in the University of Louisiana System," says the statement, from Michael F. Bérubé, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who is chair of a special AAUP committee looking at the impact of program closures on faculty rights.
The changes approved by the system in February made it much easier for universities to impose layoffs of tenured faculty when programs are eliminated -- even if institutions have not declared financial exigency. Such a declaration -- suggesting so dire a situation that an institution's survival is at stake -- is the traditional requirement under AAUP guidelines to justify the elimination of tenured jobs. The AAUP's contention is that universities should not be able to simply replace tenured positions with less expensive adjunct jobs as a way to save some money.
The AAUP statement suggests that is exactly what is happening in Louisiana. At Southeastern Louisiana University, the AAUP found, the university dismissed three tenured professors of French when the undergraduate major was eliminated, and then offered a temporary instructor position to one of the tenured professors who had just lost a job. At the University of Louisiana at Monroe, administrators gave four tenured chemistry professors six months' notice that their jobs are being eliminated, but offered to rehire them as instructors.
The rehiring offers show that there is no justification for the decisions to eliminate the jobs in the first place, the AAUP statement says. "Both programs have sufficient enrollment to justify the size of their faculty, as evidenced by the fact that they are able to rehire their fired professors in order to teach scheduled classes: SLU, for example, is offering 12 French courses next fall. It is simply refusing to staff them with its own tenured professors," the statement says
The AAUP statement acknowledges that Louisiana's universities face serious budget difficulties, but questions the relationship between those problems and the elimination of the tenured jobs. The university system "appears to be going well beyond anything that can be justified by economic hardship, launching a capricious assault on tenure as well as minimal standards of job security for the untenured," says the statement. "Faculty nationwide should be advised that the UL System has effectively nullified its tenure procedures."
A spokeswoman for the university system noted via e-mail that the rules adopted by the board this year do authorize the elimination of tenured jobs. Asked about the specific allegations made by the AAUP, she said that "I believe that question touches on aspects of a pending lawsuit, thus we cannot comment at this time."