WASHINGTON — The top national organization of university professors on Saturday voted to place LSU and Southeastern Louisiana University on academic censure for the alleged mistreatment of faculty.
The censure gives LSU the dubious distinction of being the only public flagship university on the national list. The American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, also on Saturday censured Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.
The LSU punishment focuses on two isolated situations: 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 and Northwestern were 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.
The AAUP is a nearly 50,000-member organization of faculty and other academics focused on ensuring academic freedom. There are now 52 schools on the censure list, including Nicholls State University and Our Lady of Holy Cross College in Louisiana.
Outgoing LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said he can only make limited comments because the van Heerden matter remains in litigation. Martin said LSU has and will continue to follow proper university policies and grievance procedures.
“Whatever they (AAUP officials) do, it appears they only have one side of the story,” Martin said Saturday. “But the AAUP does what the AAUP does.”
LSU interim President and Chancellor William Jenkins was traveling part of Saturday and declined comment for now.
“I prefer not to comment until I can review it and have a little more background,” Jenkins said.
As for the LSU issues, van Heerden, who was blistering in his assessments of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the levee protection failures after Hurricane Katrina, is suing LSU for his removal from his job. U.S. District Judge James J. Brady has thrown out parts of the lawsuit, but the litigation remains ongoing.
The AAUP ruled that van Heerden lost his job ultimately for speaking out against the Corps of Engineers on controversial issues in a “politically charged atmosphere.”
On the Homberger issue, LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope has said the university and faculty are working to implement the proper policies to ensure such actions to remove professors from classes are not taken unfairly again.
At Southeastern and Northwestern State, which are both part of the University of Louisiana System, this was “the worst situation the AAUP has encountered of using cutbacks in funding as an opportunity to select unwanted tenured professors for release,” said AAUP Associate General Secretary Jordan Kurland.
The censures mostly focus on the axing of French programs at SLU and the broader elimination of 16 tenured faculty members and 25 majors, minors and concentrations at NSU dating back to 2010.
Tenure is an academically earned status that provides for greater job protection.
UL System President Randy Moffett had harsh words for the AAUP in a prepared statement on Saturday.
“Given our recent interactions with the (AAUP) during their purported investigation, we are certainly not surprised by their decision,” Moffett stated. “The report issued by the AAUP contained well over 100 flaws including numerous errors and omission of key evidence that shows each university followed its handbook, management board rules and policies, and state laws in handling personnel matters.
“Furthermore, the AAUP blatantly ignored the dire financial situation that propagated actions by our institutions and continues to be a challenge. (UL) System schools have lost $187 million in state funding since 2008 and will lose an additional $54 million next year.”
Moffett challenged the AAUP to focus more on helping colleges advocate for better funding instead.
“Placing universities on a censure list has little, if any, practical implication as the AAUP is an advocacy group that holds no authority over higher education institutions and represents less than 4 percent of instructional staff at degree-granting institutions nationwide,” Moffett continued.
“In fact, all institutions currently on its list maintain full accreditation, which is a true, independent measure of quality delivery of educational services.”
The AAUP essentially charged that Southeastern and Northwestern State failed to involve faculty in the budget-cutting and academic program elimination processes, did not properly attempt to avoid the firing of tenured faculty and also did not allow for proper due process, among other concerns.
The three affected Southeastern French faculty members are suing the university.
The AAUP also is currently investigating Southern University for possible censure regarding the institution’s treatment of faculty during the process last year of declaring a financial emergency, called exigency.
The three new AAUP censures now give Louisiana at least five colleges on the list again.
Tulane University, the University of New Orleans, Loyola University and Southern University at New Orleans were placed on the AAUP censure list for actions taken against faculty after Hurricane Katrina, but they have since been removed.