Budget Woes Are No Excuse
WASHINGTON – Citing “chilling” violations of shared governance principles under the guise of financial crises, the American Association of University Professors voted unanimously to censure two institutions during its annual meeting Saturday.
“This is the thing that had to be done,” said Sudhir Trevedi, past Faculty Senate president and professor of computer science at Southern University at Baton Rouge. AAUP’s vote to censure the university followed its investigation into Southern’s declaration of financial exigency in 2011 that resulted in the firing of 19 tenured professors.
Administrators broke “every rule in the book” in their declaration of financial exigency and dealing with faculty members, Trevedi said. “We hope the university changes its mind and tries to rectify the system.”
Financial exigency, a state in which an institution's survival is threatened, is one of the only ways AAUP policy permits eliminations of tenured faculty jobs. The organization shored up its definition of the term earlier this year to try to prevent abuses of the term by administrators wishing to eliminate jobs in non-emergencies.
In its report on Southern, AAUP questioned both the severity of the institution’s financial woes and the “virtual exclusion” of faculty from crisis management discussions. Skepticism about the university’s declaration grew this year following the doubling of its athletic program subsidy to $2.4 million. The university said it had to provide the extra funds to avoid being demoted from Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, but some faculty members saw that as evidence that Southern had money in the bank, and was not in fact facing financial exigency.
James L. Llorens, chancellor of Southern, said in an e-mail he strongly disagreed with the censure. "The AAUP was incorrect when it determined we did not have to declare exigency. I contend, as we always have, that our decisions were made to shore up the entire Southern University campus in the face of enormous financial challenges. Every segment of the campus was asked to help and the resulting decisions were made in partnership with our faculty, staff and students."
In a second vote, AAUP censured National Louis University, with a flagship campus in Chicago. Hank Reichman, AAUP first vice president, said that the abuses of shared governance in the name of revenue shortfalls in the AAUP investigative report of that university were “chilling.”
National Louis University “blatantly ignored existing policies” when it shrank its full-time faculty body nearly by half in 2012, AAUP found (the institution never officially declared financial exigency). In addition to terminating 63 faculty members, including 16 tenured professors, National Louis eliminated four departments in its College of Arts and Sciences without consulting the faculty at large.
In an e-mail, National Louis President Nivine Megahed called the vote “unfortunate,” and said she remained convinced of the necessity of her actions to ensure the long-term viability of the institution. National Louis “has and continues to hold dear the principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and advancing the public good,” she said. “It is important to note that the fiscal pressures that higher education is facing are the result of an education landscape that is dramatically changing.”
The AAUP also recently investigated the University of Northern Iowa for alleged violations of shared governance principles in the midst of a budget crisis, but deferred for one year a censure vote, following what association leaders called cooperative efforts on the part of the administration, including a new president, Bill Ruud, who took office earlier this month. (In March, the local AAUP chapter and the Iowa Board of Regents reached settlements in the cases of faculty members who were discharged as a result of program closures, allowing those who wished to rescind their retirements to return to their tenured appointments.)
"I appreciate AAUP delaying their recommendation regarding [Northern Iowa] until 2014," Ruud said in a statement. "This gives the university time to address outstanding issues and it gives me the opportunity to engage with Faculty Senate and United Faculty. I appreciate the support of the faculty organizations in encouraging AAUP to delay their recommendation."
Jeffrey Funderburk, professor in the School of Music and university faculty chair, called the deferral “good news.”
"We've made good progress this year and continue to have positive conversations,” he said. “We look forward to the new administration addressing remaining issues. It's time to continue down a successful path."
AAUP also voted overwhelmingly in favor of removing two institutions, Our Lady of Holy Cross College and St. Bonaventure University, from its censure list following site visits and consultations with faculty that showed improved commitment to AAUP policy.
Our Lady of Holy Cross, in New Orleans, was censured in 2007 following the firing of its Faculty Senate president in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, without a hearing – among similar violations by other area institutions. In an e-mail, President Ronald J. Ambrosetti said the vote marked “an important step for this institution as we move forward with our plans for new program development at the doctoral, master’s and undergraduate levels; amplified community engagement; mission integration with the city’s archdiocesan, public and independent school systems, and enhanced contributions to economic development in the city and the region.”
St. Bonaventure was censured in 1996 following the termination of 18 tenured faculty members, on grounds of financial exigency. Steve Nuttall, associate professor of philosophy at St. Bonaventure, said he was part of the faculty during the crisis, which put an “enormous” emotional burden on department chairs, whom administrators gave two days to identify professors to eliminate.
However, he said, “Since 1996, things have changed considerably at St. Bonaventure, I’m happy to report,” including better faculty-administration relations and a greater commitment to shared governance.
Following the censure votes, AAUP moved to honor Robert Kreiser, its associate secretary of academic freedom, tenure and governance. The longtime champion of academic freedom and shared governance is retiring from the organization after 31 years.
Although he admitted it’s a word he uses too often, Kreiser said he was “verklempt” by the motion. “It’s been an honor to work with the core principles at the heart of the mission of the AAUP,” he said.