Southern University punished a well-respected professor, stripping him of his department chairmanship under the suspicion he knowingly allowed a colleague to keep working for two semesters after being fired.
Diola Bagayoko, physics department chairman since 2009, denied Monday the university’s allegations and said he would continue to work as chairman until he receives the official paperwork.
Southern’s leadership said Bagayoko is being demoted specifically for his failure to report his colleague was still teaching classes after being laid off.
Bagayoko, who has been with Southern since 1984, also said if his colleagues re-elect him as department chairman during a vote scheduled later this week, he will accept the position.
“Not only will I do it, I would do it to the best of my abilities and in a superior fashion,” Bagayoko said.
He later acknowledged Southern Chancellor James Llorens has the ultimate authority in choosing department chairmanships.
Llorens, on Monday, was clear that Bagayoko’s time as a department chairman is up.
“We believe that during his tenure, there was a lack of administrative oversight in performing his duties. So, we’ve called for a new election,” Llorens said.
“But this is not an indication of his performance in the classroom or his research.”
Llorens said not only has Bagayoko’s term expired, but this one situation, in particular, was the “primary reason” Bagayoko was stripped of his chairmanship, his administrative duties and the roughly $3,000 in extra pay that comes with the title.
In fall 2011, when budget cuts and enrollment declines had Southern on shaky financial footing, the university declared a financial emergency called an exigency. The move gave Southern the leeway to cut academic programs and lay off tenured faculty.
Physics professor Dong Sheng Guo was one of the professors let go. Southern mailed a termination letter to Guo’s Baton Rouge address in summer 2012, but the professor was in China and didn’t immediately get the notice.
He later explained once he got back into town, he appealed his termination, but did not hear back from the university before school started.
Guo has said without knowing the status of his appeal, he showed up on campus and taught a full load of courses.
He waited until the end of the semester before he contacted Southern’s Human Resources Department and asked to be paid his regular semester salary, about $20,000.
The university subsequently paid him.
The next semester, spring 2013, Guo returned to campus and taught classes again. Southern’s administration found out after the fact, and again, agreed to pay Guo for his work.
Southern’s general counsel, Tracie Woods, has explained the situation away as an administrative oversight where Guo was removed from the university’s payroll system, but not from the computerized faculty system known as Banner, which teachers access to learn their class schedules.
In a memo to Southern’s board, Woods placed the blame on the physics department.
“The physics department knew Dr. Guo was terminated, but the physics department allowed Dr. Guo to work,” Woods wrote.
Bagayoko said he only learned Guo had received a termination letter one week before classes started.
After talking to his colleague, he agreed to hand-deliver Guo’s formal notice of appeal to the Chancellor’s Office on the Friday before school started.
Bagayoko said he next saw Guo on campus three days later.
As department chairman, Bagayoko said he understands why he’s being blamed, but maintains he had no right to tell Guo not to teach his classes.
Bagayoko said the university neither told him the status of Guo’s appeal nor did they take him out of the Banner system, leaving him no course of action to take while he believed the appeal was in limbo.
Thomas Miller, Southern’s Faculty Senate president, backed his fellow faculty member on Monday.
He said the university is coming down hard on his colleague for being outspoken.
Bagayoko frequently clashes with Southern’s leadership on issues ranging from who it partners with to offer online courses to how university administrative functions are organized.
“This is not about Guo,” Miller said. “This is very plain and obvious.”