Academic Freedom and Tenure: Philander Smith College

By Williams, Rebecca J.; Lawson, Warner, Jr. | Academe, January/February 2004 | Go to article overview

Academic Freedom and Tenure: Philander Smith College


Williams, Rebecca J., Lawson, Warner, Jr., Academe


(Arkansas)1

This report concerns (a) the dismissal, effective November 6, 2002, of Professor Janice S. Chaparro from the faculty of Philander Smith College on stated grounds of insubordination; (b) the termination of the appointments, effective December 31 that year, of tour other full-time faculty members on stated grounds of need to reduce the size of the college's faculty and staff; and (c) the earlier termination of the services of a program director who sought the assistance of the Association based upon her faculty function of teaching courses at the college.

Philander Smith College, the oldest historically black college in Arkansas, was founded in Little Rock in 1877 as Walden Seminary. Renamed in honor of a major donor, it was chartered in 1883 as a four-year, coeducational liberal arts college and has been accredited since 1949 by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The college is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, and the bishop of the United Methodist Church of the Arkansas area sits on the college's governing board.

At the time of the events discussed in this report, the student enrollment was approximately eight hundred, and the faculty numbered forty-five. Dr. Trudie Kibbe Reed, the first woman to become president of Philander Smith College, was appointed to that office in 1998. Dr. Reed received the BA and MSSW degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and the EdD degree in adult and higher education from Columbia University. Prior to going to Philander Smith, Dr. Reed served as director of leadership studies and dean of the Leadership Institute at Columbia College in South Carolina.

During the academic year 1978-79, the Association investigated the dismissal of three professors at Philander Smith College and found the administration's actions to be in violation of the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and the 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings. Censure was imposed by the Association's annual meeting in 1980. The following year, with a new administration in office, settlements were reached with the three dismissed professors, and college policies were revised to comport with Association-supported standards. Censure was lifted by the 1981 annual meeting.

I. Background

The dismissal of Professor Janice Chaparro and the termination of the appointments of other faculty members to be discussed in this report grew out of events surrounding a condition of financial exigency announced by President Reed in September 2002. On September 3, the college received notice from its health insurance vendor of a sharp increase in insurance premiums that, in the view of President Reed and the board of trustees, put the college's financial stability at risk. In a September 25 memorandum to faculty and staff, the president provided details of the financial shortfall and announced the appointment of a four-member budget task force to develop a plan to deal with the college's financial crisis. Among the actions necessary "to maintain a balanced budget and to continue the operations of the College," according to President Reed's memorandum, were the freezing of new positions, the elimination of faculty and staff positions, and the reduction of some faculty and staff salaries. Carolyn Valdez, the chief financial officer, and Maxine Allen, dean of chapel, were charged with making recommendations concerning staff positions and administrative reorganization. William Lindsey, dean of instruction, and Professor William Woods, the faculty representative to the board of trustees, were charged with developing criteria to evaluate faculty positions and with identifying faculty positions to be eliminated. Dr. Louise Miller, an external consultant, was hired to work with the budget task force as it formed its recommendations.

Over the course of the next several weeks, according to faculty members interviewed by the undersigned investigating committee, members of the staff were asked to submit answers to a questionnaire concerning their views about the direction of the college under President Reed's leadership. …

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