Washington, DC—Administrators at Southern University, Baton Rouge (SUBR), used a declaration of financial exigency to terminate the appointments of tenured professors and sidestep the faculty’s participation in decisions to restructure the university’s academic programs, according to an investigative report by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The report was written by a committee of AAUP members with no previous involvement in the situation, chaired by Professor Edward F. Sherman of Tulane University. The report is available at http://www.aaup.org/report/academic-freedom-and-tenure-southern-university-baton-rouge.
The AAUP authorized the investigation after receiving complaints from SUBR faculty members that the administration had laid off tenured professors with no provision for the hearing before a faculty committee called for by the Association’s widely accepted academic standards and with as little as thirty days’ notice. The tenure terminations followed a 10 percent furlough mandated for all faculty members immediately after the board of supervisors declared financial exigency in October 2011. The faculty senate had asserted that the budgetary shortfall stemmed in significant part from the administration’s decision to shift money from the academic budget to the athletics program and the laboratory school. After exigency was declared, the provost instructed department chairs to submit, within a period of days, recommendations of department colleagues to be targeted for layoff. At the same time, a reorganization of the university’s nine colleges into five moved forward for board approval without the faculty’s knowledge.
The administration issued notice to nineteen tenured professors between February and May 2012. In some cases, department chairs were unaware that members of their department had been selected for layoff. Professors who received notice had seven business days to file an appeal with the chancellor. All appeals to him were denied, except for one from an appellant who had been notified erroneously.
To evade the due-process requirements for appointment terminations and the faculty’s participation in decision making in crucial areas, the board of supervisors, during the same meeting at which it declared exigency, adopted new procedures for implementing financial exigency. In doing so, the board ignored existing AAUP-recommended procedures for financial exigency that it had adopted in 1987 as a condition of its removal from the AAUP’s list of censured administrations.
Under AAUP standards, terminations of tenured faculty appointments on grounds of financial exigency may take place only after a determination by the faculty that a demonstrably bona fide financial crisis exists that threatens the institution as a whole and that all feasible alternatives to faculty layoffs have been exhausted. The faculty bears responsibility for identifying the criteria for terminating appointments and the appropriate group or individual to determine which appointments to terminate. Any faculty member so identified has the right to a hearing before a faculty committee before a final decision is made.
The AAUP report deals with the decision to declare financial exigency, the procedural shortcomings with which the appointment terminations were effected, and the role of the faculty in developing the restructuring plan. The committee found “the administration’s ex post facto changes to the faculty handbook, adopted on the day the board declared financial exigency, to be an apparent attempt to avoid the existing standards of the board and handbook.” The report concludes that the SUBR administration, in declaring financial exigency, restructuring academic programs without consulting the faculty, and terminating the nineteen tenured faculty appointments, disregarded fundamental AAUP principles, thereby weakening the climate for academic freedom that tenure is designed to protect.
“By laying off nineteen senior professors on short notice, while simultaneously deducting 10 percent from the salaries of all faculty members through mandatory furloughs, the SUBR administration managed to combine the worst of two worlds,” says AAUP Associate General Secretary Jordan E. Kurland.
Southern University, Baton Rouge, is the flagship campus in the Southern University system, a public, historically black, land-grant university system with five campuses in Louisiana. With an enrollment of approximately seven thousand students, SUBR is one of the country’s top ten producers of baccalaureate degrees awarded to African Americans.
Publication of the investigating committee’s report was approved by the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which at its May 31–June 1 meeting will formulate a statement on SUBR. The statement may recommend that the AAUP’s 2013 annual meeting on June 15 impose censure.
The American Association of University Professors is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process, and standards of quality in higher education. The AAUP has approximately 47,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the United States.