Faculty group looking into LSU merger

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- Kevin Cope, president of the LSU Faculty Senate, told the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday that the American Association of University Professors is looking into LSU's efforts to consolidate the system and the Baton Rouge campus.
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- Kevin Cope, president of the LSU Faculty Senate, told the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday that the American Association of University Professors is looking into LSU's efforts to consolidate the system and the Baton Rouge campus.

The group representing about 40,000 faculty members nationwide is looking into whether LSU officials have violated university procedures in their decision to consolidate the LSU system and Baton Rouge campus under a single leader, the head of the faculty Senate said Monday.

LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin L. Cope said near the end of his remarks to about 25 listeners at the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the American Association of University Professors had asked him and other faculty to provide documents for its investigation.

“I would not be surprised if the AAUP intervenes in this situation soon,” Cope said.

In an interview after his presentation, Cope said, “They asked for us to provide them with an array of documents concerning the transition team, the consolidation, what’s going on with accreditation, and in general, the history of this whole discussion.”

An AAUP official, B. Robert Kreiser, confirmed that the Washington, D.C.-based organization representing higher education professors nationwide has been investigating LSU. He said in an interview later Monday that he is in the process of drafting a letter to LSU Board of Supervisors Chairman Hank Danos and interim LSU President-Chancellor William Jenkins about the issue.

“The immediate cause of concern is that it appears the (LSU) board has moved towards consolidation without involving the faculty,” said Kreiser, who is associate secretary of the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance.

There appears to be serious departures on the part of LSU’s leadership from the principles of academic freedom, accepted principles of governance and protections of academic due process, Kreiser said.

In late October, the LSU Board of Supervisors unexpectedly approved merging the positions of LSU system president and chancellor of the LSU Baton Rouge campus and launched a search for someone to fill the job. There was no notice that a vote would be taken on the change in the top hierarchy. The LSU system includes four-year and two-year colleges, a law school, agricultural center and two medical schools as well as a system of 10 public hospitals.

After an opinion from a state assistant attorney general questioned whether the board had fully complied with the state’s open meetings laws, the LSU board brought the matter to a vote again in December.

The university’s accrediting authority, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, also has questioned whether LSU board members followed the proper protocols in May, when they appointed Jenkins to the dual roles of system president and Baton Rouge chancellor. SACS additionally is asking questions about the lack of information coming from the LSU board regarding its plan to merge the chancellor and president positions permanently.

“Frankly,” Kreiser said, “the AAUP has spent more time and conducted more investigations in Louisiana than any other four or five states combined ... The academic community beyond Louisiana is watching what’s going on in Louisiana.”

LSU already is on the AAUP’s censure list for the 2009 firing of outspoken LSU coastal researcher Ivor van Heerden and the 2010 removal of biology professor Dominique Homberger from a class for allegedly grading too harshly.

Southeastern Louisiana University and Northwestern State University have been censured for allegedly using state budget cuts and academic program eliminations as excuses to target certain tenured faculty for termination.

Censure status is generally seen as a black eye against a school that hampers faculty recruitment and retention.

“It’ll send a warning to the entire intellectual community that working conditions aren’t good here,” Cope said. “That reduces the ability to recruit and to do leading research.”