Academic Freedom and Tenure: Northwestern State University of Louisiana and Southeastern Louisiana University1

Article excerpt

(APRIL 2012)

The subject of this investigative report is the implementation of program discontinuance policies adopted by the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors in July 2004. In anticipation of budget shortfalls for the 2010-11 fiscal year, several UL System institutions implemented the system's academic program discontinuance policies during the 2009-10 academic year. The result at Northwestern State University and at Southeastern Louisiana University was the elimination of some thirty academic programs and the termination of at least twenty tenured faculty appointments.

During the events to be discussed, the University of Louisiana System consisted of eight four-year public institutions of higher education, located in various regions of the state, that are part neither of the Louisiana State University System nor of the historically black Southern University System. The institutions, in order of the system's listing, are Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech University, Nicholls State University, Northwestern State University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the University of Louisiana at Monroe, McNeese State University, and Southeastern Louisiana University. A ninth institution, the University of New Orleans, was relocated by action of the state government from the Louisiana State University System to the University of Louisiana System, effective in December 2011, when approval was granted by the regional accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Most of the institutions had operated under the authority of the Louisiana State Board of Education until 1975, when a separate Board of Trustees for State Colleges and Universities was created. The board's name was changed in 1995 to the University of Louisiana Board of Trustees and again in 1998 to the current UL System Board of Supervisors. Providing an additional level of authority for the UL System is the Louisiana Board of Regents, which oversees all four public higher education systems in Louisiana.

The UL System is the largest in the state, enrolling about 94,000 students. The members of its board of supervisors are appointed by the governor with the consent of the senate. The system employs a staffwith offices in Baton Rouge headed by system president Dr. Randy Moffett, who had served previously as president of Southeastern Louisiana University.

Word of a program discontinuance through elimination of the undergraduate majors in French and French education and the termination of the appointments of three tenured French professors at Southeastern Louisiana University reached the Association in spring 2011. The AAUP staffwrote to President John Crain to express concern about apparent violations of AAUP standards. Reports of intended program closures at the University of Louisiana at Monroe followed shortly thereafter. In a June 6, 2011, statement distributed by Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, Michael F. Bérubé, chair of a Committee A subcommittee engaged in developing a report on program closures, warned of what by that time appeared to be an emerging pattern of disregard for tenure and of violations of AAUP principles within the UL System. Once the extent of program discontinuances and terminations at Northwestern State University became known, the Association's general secretary authorized the investigation that is the subject of this report.

The UL System policies relevant to the issues that prompted this investigation are those governing tenure and program discontinuance. According to system policy, tenure is limited to the professorial ranks. A negative tenure decision in the sixth year of probationary service is followed by a one-year terminal appointment. Tenured status is retained until retirement, resignation, dismissal for cause, or termination resulting from financial exigency. It is granted and held only within an academic discipline, and retention is assured only within that discipline. …