Tenuous Tenure

An American Association of University Professors investigation faults two Louisiana universities for using the discontinuance of programs to arbitrarily lay off tenured professors.

April 12, 2012

The University of Louisiana System used the excuse of program closures at two of its universities in the last two years to arbitrarily lay off tenured professors, the American Association of University Professors says in a scathing report being released today. The pending release of the report set off a contest of dueling narratives, with administrators at the university system putting up a web page by Wednesday afternoon that detailed correspondence with the AAUP about the university’s objections to the findings.

The AAUP investigation faults administrators at the two institutions -- Northwestern State University and Southeastern Louisiana University – for disrespecting tenure and due process, calling the situation the worst example it has seen of institutions using cutbacks to punish tenured professors.

Over the last two years, Northwestern State eliminated programs in economics, journalism, political science and several other disciplines, resulting in the layoffs of 16 tenured faculty members. Southeastern lost three tenured professors who taught in the French program. The report criticized administrators at the University of Louisiana System, saying that they had failed to act as a check on the universities and had not supported shared governance or transparency.

Randy Moffett, president of the system, called the AAUP’s report deeply flawed. “The bottom line is that our universities must adapt to changes in Louisiana’s needs, market demand for our programs, and budgetary constraints. In doing so, all of our institutions have abided by the rules and regulations approved by the Board of Supervisors, which they are required to follow,” Moffett said in an e-mailed statement. “At the campus level, there were documented instances of faculty involvement, open communication, and transparency.” He said the organization’s report was structured around its principles, and not the rules and policies under which Louisiana universities have to operate.

A University of Louisiana System spokeswoman said that her office plans to post a marked-up version of the report online today to point out its deficiencies.

At Northwestern State University, according to the report, faculty members were not given an opportunity to gauge the extent of the financial crisis and whether any alternatives existed to laying off tenured professors. It alleges that there were no discussions with faculty members of departments that were about to be discontinued and that administrators did not consult with the Program Review Committee, a group with some faculty representation.

Moreover, hardly any efforts were made by the administration to move tenured faculty to other suitable positions, the report says. Some tenured faculty members chose to leave the university instead of applying for instructor positions “because they viewed them as unwarranted diminution of their faculty status and entirely unsuitable.”

The report alleges similar issues at Southeastern, saying that the administration there ignored regulations on academic freedom and tenure. “Unlike the Northwestern State professors, the Southeastern professors did have the opportunity for hearing before representative bodies of the elected faculty senate, which unanimously called for reinstatement of departmental tenure rights at existing rank and salary,” the report says. But those recommendations were ignored and the university’s reputation was damaged, the AAUP says.

The report gives a backhanded compliment to the University of Louisiana System, saying that it did not find that the principles of academic freedom and tenure had been violated by the system administration “as a whole” because the policies were confined to two institutions. But it questions whether the system administration was functioning as an effective check on its universities. Last year, the AAUP criticized the rights of tenured faculty in the university system and non-tenure-track job offers made by two campuses to laid-off tenured faculty.

The footnotes to the report contain correspondence from Moffett, in which he responded to a draft of the report by saying that it was “riddled with opinions, unsubstantiated allegations, and no documentation.”

“If the AAUP wants to be taken seriously, it should ensure that this report reflects the standards of excellence expected by the faculty it purports to represent,” Moffett wrote in a Feb. 23 letter to the AAUP. Another letter to the organization, from Southeastern President John Crain, said the university had complied with all rules of the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors.


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