What's the Matter with Louisiana?
In recent years, higher education has been under siege in virtually every state—through attacks on public higher education funding, legislative action to diminish or destroy the tenure system, skyrocketing tuition and fees, and ideological efforts to chill the climate for academic free speech. The AAUP uses its expert resources—in government relations, higher education and First Amendment law, organizing, communications, research, and academic policy—to counter these attacks around the country and to protect sound professional standards. But nowhere has the AAUP’s work been more evident recently than in Louisiana, where in the past five years we have conducted three major investigations into unwarranted actions against professors.
To judge from these investigations, the Bayou State appears to have mastered the art of never letting a good crisis go to waste. As a result, the AAUP has put unprecedented resources into defending academic freedom and tenure in Louisiana’s higher education institutions, both public and private.
We Can Shine a Light on Bad Higher Education Policies—and Help Faculty to Fix Them
After Hurricane Katrina, five New Orleans university administrations took advantage of the storm’s devastation to disregard due process and the faculty’s role in shared governance in order to cut programs and terminate appointments. Following the publication of the AAUP investigating committee’s report, Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Universities four administrations were placed on censure by the AAUP’s 2007 annual meeting. Through the collaborative efforts of AAUP faculty leaders and our national staff, the Association was able to persuade these administrations to work with us to resolve the problems that led to the censures. The first was removed by the annual meeting in 2008, the second in 2009, and the final two in 2011—a remarkably prompt and happy resolution of serious AAUP concerns.
The second major investigating committee report, published in 2011, dealt with two distinctly different academic freedom cases at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. The first involved a well-known expert on coastal geography and hurricanes who was released in his eighteenth year on the faculty after he continued to dissent from the administration’s position on the cause of the failed New Orleans levees. The second involved a senior professor of biology who had volunteered to teach a section of the introductory biology course for nonmajors. Low grades she assigned for the first test in the course prompted her dean to remove her peremptorily from teaching the course while it was still in process and to change her students’ grades without her prior knowledge or consent. Despite the differences between the two cases, they shared a common denominator: an administration willing to sacrifice freedom of inquiry and academic rigor in order to placate other interests.
The last of the three reports, resulting from an investigation of institutions in the University of Louisiana System, was published online last month and will appear in print in the 2012 issue of the Bulletin of the AAUP. Focusing on terminations of tenured faculty appointments on the stated grounds of program discontinuance at Northwestern State University and Southeastern Louisiana University, the report concludes that the administrations of both institutions chose the harshest interpretations of UL System policy in order to selectively terminate tenured appointments without affording the affected professors basic elements of due process and without a demonstrated legitimate basis for doing so.
In June, our standing Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure will review both the LSU and the UL System cases and submit statements on each regarding potential censure to our 2012 Annual Meeting.
The AAUP Is Your Professional Association
As heavy a demand on the AAUP’s resources as these investigations required, they represent only a part of our efforts on behalf of the academic profession in Louisiana. Our policy work—the principles and best-practice standards embodied in our widely adopted policy recommendations— constitutes the core of our mission to defend academic freedom and tenure, while advancing the ideals, standards, and welfare of the profession. Reports like our annual faculty salary survey, news and research published in our bimonthly magazine, Academe, and amicus briefs and expert testimony offered in relevant court cases and legislative hearings make sure that faculty concerns contribute to the discourse in higher education circles. The good policies that appear in your faculty handbook are also the work of the AAUP, with its century-long mission of formulating sound professional standards.
Some of our most important work is the day-to-day contact we have with faculty members who rely on us as a source of advice and information. In the last five years alone, we have worked with hundreds of Louisiana faculty members who have contacted us about matters ranging from allegations of violations of academic freedom and due-process rights to help with policies on topics like group teaching, copyright, and the faculty role in administrative hiring. Our campus chapter leaders and state conference leaders also act as local resources for information about faculty-related concerns and are conduits for important information about what is happening on campus and across the state in higher education.
We’ve Got Your Back. Do You Have Ours?
Just as you count on us to be there for you, we rely on you. Since its founding in 1915, the AAUP has been a 100 percent faculty-led organization, and our work is dependent on membership dues and member support. Academics join the Association because they know that the work we do today will help to determine the higher education standards of tomorrow.
Thank you for your membership! Please ask your colleagues to join us too.
Because without you, there is no AAUP.