“I Was a Threat Because I Wouldn’t Be Quiet”

BY LAURA MARKWARDT

An investigative report released today by the AAUP concludes that the administration of Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, fired Erlene Grise-Owens, a long-serving professor of social work, in blatant violation of academic freedom and due process.

The report finds that Spalding’s administration abruptly terminated Professor Grise-Owens’s tenured appointment because she criticized the administration’s handling of an incident involving a student who brought a gun to a campus parking lot, showed it to a fellow student, and said, “I’m tired of these people f–cking with me.” The school’s chair immediately alerted social work faculty about the incident—except the school’s three faculty members of color, even though the student was scheduled to attend class with one of them the next day.

Professor Grise-Owens and two other faculty members formally complained to the administration about its failure to notify the faculty members of color about the incident. After the administration dismissed their complaint as groundless, they brought it in person to the faculty senate. Soon after their meeting with the senate, Professor Grise-Owens received notice of dismissal, which lacked any reference to her procedural rights. Following the administration’s action, the other two faculty members resigned, one stating,

“I cannot be part of such a system, and I will not be part of a system that continuously models disparity between principles and actions and in so doing puts my life and the lives of my students in harm’s way.”

The investigating committee found that Grise-Owens was dismissed for “speaking out against institutional policies and practices she deemed inadequate” or as one faculty member put it, for “doing what all tenured faculty should do” and “being connected to the marginalized voices.”

Michael DeCesare of Merrimack College chaired the investigating committee with members Rachel Buff of University of the Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Emily Houh of the University of Cincinnati. They visited Louisville this spring and interviewed Professor Grise-Owens and other current and former Spalding faculty members. Members of the Spalding administration refused to meet with the committee.

The AAUP investigates a few select cases annually in which faculty members allege that severe departures from widely accepted academic standards have occurred and persist despite efforts to achieve an appropriate resolution. In academic freedom and tenure cases, the AAUP may place an institution on its list of censured administrations. The censure list informs the academic community and the public at large that conditions for academic freedom and tenure at the institution are unsound. The report may trigger a vote at the June annual meeting to place the Spalding on the censure list.


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