Louisiana figured prominently in a Sept. 28 cover story in The Chronicle of Higher Education, though not for a reason that anyone should feel good about.
The story, “Careers, Interrupted,” featured tenured faculty members at several universities across the country who have lost their jobs as cash-strapped institutions of higher learning eliminated programs.
While tenure generally means job security for faculty members who attain it, universities can fire tenured faculty members if financial emergencies compel these institutions to cut back.
Margaret Marshall, a tenured faculty member who found her 37-year-career at Southeastern Louisiana University abruptly ended when the university shuttered its French department, was one of the people featured in The Chronicle’s story. Also featured were Katherine Kolb and Evelyne Bornier, who lost their jobs when SLU’s French department closed.
Michael Kalish, an associate professor of cognitive science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, was profiled in the article, too. Kalish lost his tenured job when ULL shut down its cognitive science program, although he later secured a tenured position in the university’s psychology program. Kalish can still conduct his research, though he’ll have less help to do it. He’ll also be teaching undergraduate courses at ULL rather than the graduate students to which he was accustomed.
Kalish is actually among the lucky Louisiana educators profiled in The Chronicle’s story. Marshall remains unemployed.
“I was three years away from retirement, and I think when someone else makes that choice for you, it’s much more of an adjustment,” Marshall told The Chronicle. “I wasn’t ready, and I’m not coping very well with it.”
Kolb has had periodic academic work but is making do with a reduced pension. Bornier landed a job at Auburn University, but at a more-junior level than her SLU job. At Auburn, she must now work to regain the tenure she lost at SLU.
The elimination of programs at SLU, ULL and other state universities are the result of a series of large state budget cuts that have forced big changes at Louisiana’s public universities and colleges.
Universities can’t be immune from change, and change is often difficult.
The fired faculty members profiled in The Chronicle of Higher Education story are powerful reminders that the budget cuts endured by Louisiana’s institutions of higher learning have been far from painless.
The firings of tenured university professors in Louisiana send a signal to the rest of the nation that coming to work at our colleges and universities could be a riskier proposition than working elsewhere. That’s bound to be a big obstacle to recruiting new faculty members when they’re needed.