Academic Freedom and Tenure: Virginia State University1

By Gray, Mary W.; Lawson, Warner, Jr. et al. | Academe, May/June 2005 | Go to article overview

Academic Freedom and Tenure: Virginia State University1


Gray, Mary W., Lawson, Warner, Jr., Mi, Margaret Klayton, Scott, Joan Wallach, Academe


This report deals with actions taken by the administration of Virginia State University to dismiss two tenured members of the faculty, Sikiru Ade Olusoga and Jean R. Cobbs, after subjecting each of them to a post-tenure review process.

Virginia State University is located near Petersburg, Virginia, some twenty-five miles south of Richmond. Founded in 1882 as the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute, the institution changed its name to the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute in 1902, to the Virginia State College for Negroes in 1930, to Virginia State College in 1946, and, finally, to Virginia State University in 1979. VSU is one of two land-grant institutions in the commonwealth of Virginia, and it was the first fully state-supported four-year historically black institution of higher education in the United States. Initially accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 1933, the university currently awards the bachelor's and master's degrees and a certificate of advanced graduate study within five schools: Agriculture; Business; Engineering, Science, and Technology; Liberal Arts and Education; and Graduate Studies, Research, and Outreach. It has approximately 225 full-time faculty members, and it enrolls some 5,000 students.

The university's board of visitors, the institution's governing board, consists of twelve members appointed by the governor of Virginia. The current rector, who chairs the board, is Ronald C. Johnson, chief executive officer of Ronson Network Services Corporation. Eddie N. Moore, Jr., assumed his position as VSU's twelfth president in 1993. He had previously served in the Virginia state government as an assistant controller and then as the state's treasurer in the administration of Governor L. Douglas Wilder. W. Eric Thomas became provost and vice president for academic and student affairs at VSU in fall 2003, having previously been associate vice president for undergraduate studies at Illinois State University. David Bejou, who had been vice provost for administration at VSU, was appointed interim dean of the School of Business in August 2003. W. Weldon Hill became dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Education in fall 2003; he was previously provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Virginia Union University.

Professor Olusoga was awarded a BS in marketing by California State University, Los Angeles, in 1970, an MA by San Francisco State University in 1973, and a PhD in marketing by Arizona State University in 1989. He joined VSU's Department of Management and Marketing as an associate professor in 1992, and he was promoted to the rank of full professor and granted tenure in 1998. By letter dated May 6, 2004, Professor Olusoga was notified by Dr. Thomas that he was being dismissed from the faculty effective five days later.

Professor Cobbs, the other faculty member whose case is treated in this report, received a BS in sociology from Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina in 1965, an MS in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1967, and an EdD in counseling and guidance from the College of William and Mary in 1979. She began teaching at VSU in the Department of Sociology and Social Work (now the Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Criminal Justice) in 1971, was granted tenure and promoted to associate professor in 1978, and was promoted to full professor in 1980. She was the founding director of the university's program in social work, a position she held from 1971 to 1995. During her tenure as director, the program was accredited by the Council on Social Work Education; it lost its accreditation in July 2001. Professor Cobbs also served as department chair from 1982 to 1994. She received a letter from Dr. Thomas dated December 23, 2004, terminating her services as of January 9, 2005. The administration changed her status from termination to suspension without pay after she filed an appeal on January 7. …

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