Humanities Endowment director protests his firing

Michael Sartisky
Michael Sartisky

The brash executive director of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities was fired this month, though neither he nor the board in charge of the arts, cultural and historical organization would provide many details as to why.

Michael Sartisky, 62, had served as president and executive director of the endowment, a nonprofit group affiliated with the National Endowment for the Humanities, for 31 years.

Neither Sartisky nor LEH board members were willing to speak directly about his dismissal.

Sartisky, however, emailed a news release blasting the board’s actions as a violation of a succession plan put in place in November and saying he was “considering his options.”

The board suspended Sartisky in late December and formally removed him on Feb. 11.

Deputy Director Miranda Restovic, who has also directed the nonprofit’s Prime Time Family Reading Program, was appointed as interim president and executive director this past week.

LEH board Chairman Michael Bernstein, the provost of Tulane University, said he could not comment on the situation beyond confirming that Sartisky had been removed by the board. Other board members said they could not comment on the situation.

In Sartisky’s news release, in which he took credit for the organization’s growth under his tenure and its major initiatives during that time, he said the board had established a “succession plan” in November that would have seen him spend two more years as executive director before turning over the reins to Restovic. Sartisky would then have served in a part-time position as editor-in-chief of Louisiana Cultural Vistas magazine and the KnowLA.org online encyclopedia for two more years, he said.

But those plans were thrown out late in the year, when Sartisky was suspended and ultimately fired.

He said that process violated the organization’s bylaws and procedures because he was not allowed to meet with the board during that time and was not given any documents related to his firing other than a termination letter.

Sartisky said a succession plan was key for the organization, particularly in tight budget times caused by the loss of $2 million a year in state funding, which he blamed on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration, and an additional cut of more than $1 million in federal money.

“A careful succession plan seemed the only logical hope to carefully plan and structure the sustainability of LEH’s core program and staff,” Sartisky said. “That plan has now been brought to an abrupt halt.”

Since it was founded in 1971, LEH has served as a conduit for about $70 million in programs and efforts to promote Louisiana’s culture and history. Those include efforts such as funding an early Ken Burns documentary on Huey Long, publishing the quarterly Louisiana Cultural Vistas and producing KnowLA.org, the online encyclopedia of the state.