The American Association of University Professors on Tuesday accused five New Orleans universities, including historically Black Southern University New Orleans, of abandoning their existing financial contingency plans after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in favor of policies that contributed to the displacement of 15,000 faculty members.
In a report released Tuesday, the Special Committee on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Universities said the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, the University of New Orleans, SUNO, Loyola University New Orleans and Tulane University terminated faculty in violation of AAUP’s “Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure.”
The policy states that under certain circumstances, such as an imminent financial crisis, faculty members may be terminated, but all feasible alternatives to termination must have been pursued.
Louisiana’s state commissioner of higher education, Dr. E. Joseph Savoie, says the universities did exactly that.
“I know that [AAUP’s] mission is to protect faculty; during these difficulty times, this has been our mission as well,” says Savoie. “We have taken extraordinary measures and advantage of every creative avenue available for as long as possible. Not because of policies and procedures, but because it was the right thing to do.”
AAUP initiated its investigation into how schools handled faculty in the wake of the hurricanes after several faculty members from New Orleans institutions contacted the group. The goal of the investigation, AAUP officials say, was to learn what happened to faculty members there and develop standards for other colleges to apply based on those lessons.
Members of the eight-member committee, chaired by University of Virginia law professor and former AAUP president Robert M. O’Neil, went to New Orleans in August 2006 and interviewed faculty members from each institution and the chief administrative officers and attorneys affiliated with the three public universities.
The investigation’s findings do not include the two other HBCUs affected by the hurricanes — Xavier University of Louisiana and Dillard University — although a significant number of faculty and staff at those institutions also lost their positions. At Xavier, “no specific case emerged,” according to the report. No one at Dillard sought AAUP’s intervention.
At SUNO, the committee concluded that faculty members were furloughed without “academic due process to which they were entitled under the university’s own policies.” The university also eliminated academic programs without input from faculty members, exhibiting “manifested disregard for the faculty’s appropriate role in academic governance.”
In his pre-publication response to the report, Southern University System President Ralph Slaughter defended the school’s actions. “Our administrators must see and consider the entire picture, the whole institution, and not just how the landscape relates to faculty.”
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