Late yesterday I posted news that the Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge Faculty Senate had voted by an overwhelming 39-5 margin to censure LSU Chancellor-President F. King Alexander and two other top administrators for their roles in the dismissal of tenured professor Teresa Buchanan. The LSU administration responded with the following press release, issued shortly before the vote:
While we respect the Faculty Senate’s right to disagree with the administration, they simply don’t have all the facts in this case. Unfortunately, due to potential litigation, we are not at liberty to share all of the facts. We stand behind the decision made by our dean, former provost, president and Board of Supervisors and what it represents – that our students have the right to learn in an environment free of sexual harassment, bullying and verbal abuse. Being deliberately indifferent to hostile learning environments is not only damaging to our students but undermines the educational values and principles that higher education represents. We firmly support tenure and academic freedom as integral parts of academia, but they do not supersede the civil rights of our students. Our faculty understand this, but when the rare exception occurs, action must be taken to prevent the continuation of such damaging and counterproductive environments.
In a supplemental vote, the Senate then directed its chair, Kevin Cope, who is also a member of the AAUP national Council, to reply. Here is that reply, in the form of a letter to the campus newspaper, The Reveille:
Dear Reveille Editor,
The Faculty Senate appreciates coverage by the Reveille of the recent censure of LSU President F. King Alexander. A unanimous vote of the Faculty Senate has tasked me with responding to an item mentioned in that coverage, the press release issued by the Office of Media Relations immediately following the censure vote.
This confusing if not contradictory press release alleges that the Faculty Senators “don’t have all the facts in this case” and then immediately admits that “we are not at liberty to share all the facts”—that information has been withheld. However one resolves this muddle, either LSU presented its facts but failed to convince two faculty panels or LSU withheld information, thereby depriving the accused faculty member of the means to defend herself. The press release then simply asserts that “we stand behind the decision.” Whoever “we” might be, this raw assertion reinforces the impression that the administration cares more for posturing than for due process.
The press release moves from the descriptive to the impudent when it suggests that Faculty Senators are “being deliberately indifferent to hostile learning environments.” Members of the Faculty Senate understand that the most hostile learning environment is one in which capricious administrators, by disregarding policy and due process, create an atmosphere of fear, anxiety, intimidation, and finally censorship, thereby depriving students of the full spectrum of opinion, ideas, and expression.
The greatest irony in the LSU press release is the assertion that “we firmly support tenure and academic freedom,” an unlikely claim given LSU’s failure to escape from multiple censures by the American Association of University Professors and given LSU’s failure to dig its way out of a veritable avalanche of criticism from civil rights and anti-censorship groups.
2015 has not been a successful year for the Alexander administration. It failed to respond adequately to the Jindal-driven prayer rally in January; it defaulted on promises to deliver raises for faculty; its lobbying efforts achieved little more than a barely viable standstill budget; and it bungled a discipline case for which a faculty panel provided clear direction. In a spirit of charity, the LSU Board of Supervisors now needs to offer King Alexander what the President failed to offer the defendant in the now famous discipline case: a well-designed program of remediation.