AAUP censures Southern

The top national organization of university professors on Saturday voted to place Southern University on academic censure for its handling of a declared financial emergency and the resulting faculty layoffs during the past two years.

The formal censure by the American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, which has spent a lot of time in Louisiana lately, gives Southern the dubious distinction of joining LSU, Southeastern Louisiana University, Northwestern State University and Nicholls State University on the 52-school list.

Southern University and National Louis University in Illinois were the only schools in the country placed on the censure list during the AAUP annual meeting in Washington. Last year, LSU — the only national flagship on the list — Southeastern and Northwestern were the only three schools added.

Several Louisiana universities have drawn the ire of the AAUP in recent years for alleged violations of faculty rights and university policies during layoffs that have resulted from repeated state budget cuts to higher education in the state.

Censure status is generally seen as a negative stigma against a school that hampers faculty recruitment and retention. The AAUP is a roughly 40,000-member organization of faculty and other academics focused on ensuring academic freedom.

The AAUP voted for the censure after it determined Southern improperly used its declaration of a financial emergency, called exigency, in October 2011 to fire tenured professors and to allegedly prevent the faculty’s participation in decisions to restructure the university’s academic programs. The financial exigency decision came after less than the desired amount of 90 percent of the faculty decided to accept 10 percent pay cuts.

“By laying off 19 senior professors on short notice, while simultaneously deducting 10 percent from the salaries of all faculty members through mandatory furloughs, the (Southern) administration managed to combine the worst of two worlds,” AAUP Associate General Secretary Jordan Kurland said about the determinations.

Southern ultimately eliminated roughly 70 faculty positions and several dozen non-faculty positions through layoffs, retirements, resignations and attrition during the eight-month exigency period.

Southern Chancellor James Llorens said Saturday that he “regrets” that the AAUP made the decision to censure Southern. Llorens argued the AAUP’s report made “inaccurate conclusions” that Southern did not need to declare exigency.

Llorens said he stands by the decisions made and the university’s policies. “We’re just confident the exigency was much needed to get out of a very serious financial situation,” Llorens said.

He had previously argued the university terminated hundreds of staff employees, furloughed administrators, increased class sizes and reduced the number of adjunct faculty in an attempt to stave off the need to declare a financial emergency.

Southern professor and physics department chairman Diola Bagayoko, who is the Faculty Senate parliamentarian, said he assumed the AAUP censure was inevitable. Bagayoko noted that two professors in his department were laid off without the department chairman even being informed.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Bagayoko said Saturday. “The way in which the layoffs of faculty were handled, censure was to be expected. It’s as simple as that.”

The only positive news Saturday for a Louisiana school is that the AAUP opted to remove Our Lady of Holy Cross College in New Orleans from its censure list.