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Layoffs at Two Louisiana Universities Violated Academic Standards

Administrators at two Louisiana universities used program discontinuances as an excuse to get rid of selected tenured faculty members, a new AAUP investigating report finds (pdf). The investigation focused on Northwestern State University and Southeastern Louisiana University, both part of the University of Louisiana System, and was conducted by a committee of AAUP members with no previous involvement in the situation.

At both institutions, administrators discontinued or consolidated academic programs and arbitrarily selected certain tenured professors in the programs for termination of appointment. Especially egregious was that some faculty were dismissed from tenured positions and then offered short-term contracts teaching many of the same courses at drastically reduced salaries.

At Northwestern State, programs were discontinued in such fields as economics, journalism, political science, sociology, German, chemistry, and physics. At least sixteen tenured faculty appointments were terminated in disregard of AAUP-supported standards. The investigation revealed that the NSU administration created a special appeals procedure for terminations that denied faculty members the right to a faculty hearing, terminated tenured positions before untenured ones, and did not attempt to find suitable alternative positions for those affected. The committee found that the administration “failed to consult the faculty in decisions that a financial crisis existed or was imminent” and “fell severely short of the expectations . . . of the UL System’s policy for academic program discontinuance.”

At Southeastern, the only tenured faculty appointments terminated were those of the university’s three professors of French. This happened in a state and in a local parish where French ranks with English as one of two official languages. The professors have outstanding academic records, and the investigating committee found no legitimate basis for terminating their services. The president refused to give them any reason for his action, and he has resisted all pressure to reconsider his position.

Under AAUP-recommended standards, tenured faculty appointments may be terminated only because of financial exigency, a condition affecting an institution as a whole; for program discontinuance based on educational considerations, as determined primarily by the faculty; or for demonstrated cause.

The AAUP report concluded that, lacking chief administrative officers who respect tenure and due process, academic freedom at both Southeastern Louisiana and Northwestern State is and “will in all likelihood remain insecure.”

The University of Louisiana System, consisting of the state’s public four-year institutions that are part neither of the flagship Louisiana State University nor of the historically black Southern University System, is the state’s largest, with eight component institutions during the events investigated and a total student enrollment in excess of eighty thousand.

This is the third major report in five years published by the AAUP as a result of investigations in Louisiana. The first of these, Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Universities, was a 2007 report on the investigation of apparent violations of principles of academic freedom and tenure at five of the city’s universities. The second major report, published in 2011, dealt with two distinctly different academic freedom cases at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

Read the full report on the University of Louisiana System (.pdf).

If you have comments, please contact Jordan Kurland or Jenn Nichols.