U. of Louisiana Weakens Tenure Rights

February 28, 2011

The board of the eight-campus University of Louisiana System on Friday approved changes in its procedures for dismissing professors that faculty leaders say have destroyed key elements of tenure protections.

The Board of Supervisors approved changes that make it easier and speedier to eliminate the jobs of tenured faculty members -- a prospect that officials say they don't relish but think will be necessary due to additional rounds of deep budget cuts in the state. The policy shifts also make it easier and speedier to dismiss non-tenured faculty members. Faculty leaders have focused on the changes in tenure protections because they run against the traditional protection of tenured professors except in cases of "financial exigency," a state so dire that an institution's ability to survive is at stake.

Since the current economic downturn hit in the fall of 2008, a number of colleges and universities have included tenured faculty members in layoffs, without declaring financial exigency, typically by arguing that the elimination of programs justifies such actions. (The American Association of University Professors and other faculty groups have said that, barring financial exigency, tenured professors in eliminated programs should continue to be employed in other appropriate departments.) The University of Louisiana board's action is notable in stating formally that tenured faculty members can be subject to layoffs -- and in doing so for a system with many institutions.

The key changes approved by the board permit system universities to:

  • Include tenured faculty members in layoffs, if the professors' programs have been discontinued.
  • Reduce the notice required for such layoffs of tenured faculty members from two semesters to one if the system colleges are facing a 15 percent budget cut for the next year or a 7.5 percent midyear budget cut. (The expedited time to termination was also given a two-year sunset period, but faculty members and administrators agree that cuts of the magnitude required are quite possible in the next year or two.)

The board rejected three proposals from the Faculty Advisory Council, which includes representatives from all the system campuses, that professors hoped would mitigate the impact of the changes. One proposal would have required that tenured faculty members have their jobs protected if, though their academic program is officially eliminated, some courses in it are still offered for students in other majors who need that discipline to meet various requirements.

Donna A. Rhorer, chair of the council, cited the elimination of foreign language programs as an example. Some universities have eliminated degree programs (meeting the requirement for program elimination) but still offered some courses for students who are not majors. Professors wanted to know that in these cases, tenured faculty members would have a right to these jobs, but the board refused to adopt that measure, and Rhorer said that this suggests that lower-cost adjuncts will be hired to teach such courses.

Faculty leaders also asked the board to require in its policy that faculty members in affected programs be given some role in considering their fate, and that tenured faculty members whose jobs are eliminated have a right of final appeal to the board. Those proposals were rejected as well.

The system released a series of statements by board members in which they said that they regretted having to change tenure protections, but believed they had no choice. Edward Crawford, a board member, was quoted as saying, "We do not have the money to do everything we want to do. We have to have the tools that we hope we don't have to use. These are the fiscal realities." E. Gerald Hebert said, "We feel for the faculty, but we have to do what we have to do."

And Jimmy Faircloth Jr., another board member, said that it was unfair for faculty members to say they were ignored (even if the board didn't accept their suggestions). "Regarding comments that your voice hasn’t been heard, I strongly disagree. I spent yesterday reading a huge binder that included comments and proposed changes and revisions and came here today prepared to listen."

The Faculty Advisory Council was not convinced and released this statement after the vote: "The new policies will allow for a bilateral contract between the employee and the Board to be severed unilaterally by university presidents. These policies, as they are now written, do not adequately protect tenured faculty from arbitrary actions. The implementation of these policies is a threat to Louisiana’s most qualified educators, and cannot be good for the future education of Louisianans."

Rhorer, associate professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, said, "Tenure here has been watered down."

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