Group says LSU faculty excluded

The nation’s top organization of professors issued a letter to LSU this week calling for an end to what it called the “seeming disregard” for faculty input taking place as the university is going through its current reorganization.

The LSU Board of Supervisors is working to consolidate the LSU System and Baton Rouge campus under a single leader. LSU faculty has described the ongoing process as “hasty and erratic,” and has criticized the board for paying lip service to faculty inclusion while effectively shutting them out of the process.

LSU Board Chairman Hank Danos did not return two calls seeking comment Wednesday, but he previously has denied that faculty hasn’t been involved. After a Dec. 7 board meeting, Danos called the complaints “a little confusing,” saying that faculty opinions were used to help draft the 25-page report from a consulting firm that kicked off the reorganization.

Danos also mentioned a series of faculty breakfast meetings the board participated in, and several more informal meetings he and other board members have had with faculty members throughout the process.

But this week’s note from the American Association of University Professors contends those efforts were largely symbolic. The seven-page letter is essentially a politely worded warning that LSU could wind up on the AAUP’s censure list for the second time in less than 12 months.

The Washington, D.C.-based group, which represents about 40,000 faculty members nationwide, voted June 16 to censure the university for what it described as mistreatment of faculty. The move gave LSU’s Baton Rouge campus the distinction of being the only public flagship university on the national list. Censure status is generally seen as a blemish on a school’s reputation that can hamper faculty recruitment and retention.

The letter written by AAUP Associate Secretary B. Robert Kreiser airs out a number of grievances the group has with the university. When contacted Wednesday, an AAUP official said Kreiser had left for the day and wouldn’t be available to comment until Thursday.

Kreiser says in his letter that there is an expectation at a well-run university that “faculty should play an active and meaningful role” in matters that affect an institution’s governance structure. He specifically mentions the LSU board’s surprise vote on Oct. 26 to combine the LSU System president and Baton Rouge chancellor positions.

Despite faculty objections they had no time to comment on the proposition before the vote, Kreiser said the board has essentially forged ahead with the decision to reorganize LSU’s structure from the top down and to launch a search for a new leader, with the same disregard for faculty opinions.

Kreiser cited LSU’s Presidential Search Committee having only one faculty member; the 10-member Transition Advisory Team leading the reorganization process having no faculty members; and the official job description for a new president not mentioning the need for credentials as further evidence that faculty are being intentionally marginalized.

He further acknowledges that while the Transition Advisory Team’s Academic Subcommittee has several faculty members on it, none of the remaining four subcommittees has faculty representation.

Kreiser ends his letter calling on LSU to pivot toward more faculty input.

“We hope that the administration and board will address the faculty’s concerns and do so in a manner that is respectful of widely accepted professional norms within the academic community,” he wrote.

LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope, a frequent critic of the reorganization, characterized the letter as a warning to LSU with an olive branch attached. The LSU board, he said, “may mean well, but they misunderstand the true meaning of consultation. They may listen at times but then they go ahead and do what they’ve wanted to do anyway.”

Cope said he’s optimistic that board will change course after feeling the brunt of both local and national criticism. He chalked up the board’s prior actions to “inexperience or naiveté.”

“I want to emphasize that the faculty wants to bring LSU into accord with the best practices that should be undertaken by a serious, research university,” Cope said. “That can’t be done with a group of gubernatorial appointees. It’s irresponsible for the supervisors to disregard the people with real expertise.”