William Robison writes (Advocate, July 27) to defend University of Louisiana System President Randy Moffett and Southeastern Louisiana University President John Crain, under attack for their actions leading to the censure of Southeastern by the American Association of University Professors.
Robison expresses regret about the termination of the French program and the dismissal of its tenured faculty who, he says, were his friends; but he has “heard no alternative.” This is odd. Crain, in the two years since his decision about French, has demonstrated numerous creative alternatives in the face of budget cuts, while carefully following rules he ignored with French.
At SLU I was indeed on friendly terms with Robison, Crain and Moffett. So it pains me to watch the university crumble — not the bricks and mortar — but its very foundation: its faculty. Crain “kept faculty informed to an astounding degree”? Only after the fact. Not even the department head was consulted, nor the faculty concerned, a basic requirement for program closure.
Moffett “consulted the Faculty Senate and upheld academic freedom”? Not Crain. The Faculty Senate and the University Grievance Committee called for our reinstatement. When Crain disregarded both, the only further recourse was a vote of no confidence. Nothing tells better the “climate of fear” the AAUP found at Southeastern than the Senate’s retreat from that logical step.
But “the AAUP has no legal authority over the UL System.” What of moral authority? The AAUP handbook is the academic bible. Rather than impugn its authority, Robison should urge Crain to work to remove the sanctions, as did New Orleans universities under censure after Hurricane Katrina. Neither massive budget cuts nor hurricanes offer license to fire tenured faculty and demolish programs without following established guidelines.
It took no time to destroy a French program that took years to build. Two graduates per year in French is the national average. More relevant is the number of majors: we had 14 in the fall of 2009 and 23 in spring 2010, before Crain’s decision. Upper-level classes were full, spirits were high, we were on a roll. Crain did not know because he did not ask. Covering up mistakes only makes them more destructive. Robison merely deepens the cover-up. Targeting the AAUP report was a publicity stunt, and calling the report “deeply flawed” (as Moffett does) is to misuse words. “Flaw” implies a structural problem. The flaw here lies not in the report but in Southeastern today as a result of Crain’s actions and Moffett’s support of them.
Robison’s hails Moffett as “a hero.” But even heroes have their flaws. The classic flaw is hubris—biblical pride. To help confront rather than bury mistakes is, to my mind, the mark of a true friend.
professor emerita, SLU