Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the Louisiana Conference of the American Association of University Professors, April 9, 2006, Tulane University (Stanley Thomas Hall 101). Invited guest: General Secretary Roger Bowen. Approximately 42 faculty members attended; institutions represented included Tulane University, University of New Orleans, Southern University-New Orleans, Louisiana State University (including the Health Sciences Center, LSU A&M Baton Rouge campus and the Agriculture Center), Loyola University, University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Southeastern Louisiana University-Hammond, Our Lady of Holy Cross College. N.B. The minutes are a record of statements made at the forum; no further research was undertaken to certify their veracity.
The general meeting was preceded at 9:00 a.m. by a meeting between General Secretary Bowen and faculty members from the University of New Orleans to discuss the recent request made by UNO Chancellor Timothy Ryan that the Board declare a state of financial exigency that would enable him to fire a number of faculty members, including tenured ones.
The general meeting was called to order at 10:15 by Conference President Manjit Kang.
Dr. Bowen's theme was "A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste"; he opened his talk with the affirmation that this motto, which has been uttered by administrators, should be ours as well. Former deans of business schools who become university presidents have a hard-headed approach that is part of the corporatization of universities that has taken place gradually over 20-30 years and in which faculty have been complicit. We have been sleeping as the corporatizers have been hard a work and now we cannot be surprised when they assault the most important institution in higher education, which is tenure. The 1940 Statement affirms that tenure and a reasonable income are what make the profession sufficiently attractive. Given our income, we are either foolish idealists or just plain foolish to put in the number of years that we do for education and proving ourselves if we do not have the assurances of tenure. He drew a comparison between the role of the faculty member and the role of the judge: if you are to be fair and judicious, you have to have the security to speak truth to power without fear of repercussions. Tenure is under assault unquestionably in the city of New Orleans. The Tulane plan eliminates scores of tenured positions, the UNO game plan coming out is similar, discussions have been held with the president of Loyola [secretary's note: on April 10 the president of Loyola announced a plan calling for the elimination of numerous programs and tenured and tenure-track positions]. And what is the greatest expense? [audience: ADMINISTRATORS] The AAUP salary survey now includes a new category of presidential compensation, and it shows that presidential compensation is way ahead of faculty compensation. Another datum provided by the survey is that faculty members must receive a 5% increase just to keep up with health care costs. Faculty salaries are falling behind.
Here in New Orleans, tenure is under assault and the AAUP takes it very seriously. How should the AAUP respond? Generally the AAUP responds with an investigation. Is that appropriate here? Tulane University President Scott Cowen contacted the AAUP immediately prior to the public announcement of the plan and said that the situation was grave and that Tulane was acting consistently with AAUP practices and hoped that the AAUP would support the plan. Chancellor Ryan has not done the same. If the assault on tenure in Louisiana succeeds, what will happen in other states, such as Mississippi? At a state campus there, a new president has been imposed on the faculty who was not even on the candidate list and who is a former general. Another president who had engendered serious opposition among the faculty is no longer there, but it is under question whether faculty members will be included on the search committee for his successor. Faculty are being kept out of governance, which has become from the top down. If we have no say in the selection of administrators, what guarantee do we have that they will safeguard academic freedom in matters such as grades and faculty hiring? The national office of the AAUP is concerned and the question is how to express that concern.
What are faculty strengths and weaknesses? Our strengths come from organizing to address a systemic weakness--that faculty like to work alone. We are archindividualists but we are so at our peril. When we do communicate, it is with people in our own department, our 'own' people. We are divided, feudalistic, and sometimes with a serf-like attitude we look to the authority figures, who are indifferent to our well-being and to academic freedom. Division and lack of organization will do us in. There is strength in numbers and in organizing; first and foremost, professors are members of the academic profession. You work hard and for long hours; act like a member of a profession and not like a disciplinary tribe. There are behavioral issues that make us who we are and weaken us vis a' vis the administration. Dr. Bowen then described an experiment that he would conduct on the first day of his political science courses in which he told the students to stand up, balance on one leg, grab the hand of the person next to them and repeat a slogan, which they did. Then he asked them what had just happened: the students realized that they had obeyed without thinking. Then he told them to disobey, to question authority. What had just been demonstrated was authority--the probability that a particular command would be obeyed. We must demonstrate to our students that we are critical thinkers: when an administration says that we are in a state of financial exigency, we must say, "Show me" and not hide and hope that we will not be affected. You do it by joining hands with those who have been fired. What are they doing to our sense of community, to our sense of participation?
Dr. Bowen recounted that when he was a college president, he had times when he was filled with frustration because the boards were saying "There's a crisis" and then you resolve it and get praise for good management. We have to remind presidents, even those who were business school deans, that even when they are being pressed from above, they will also be squeezed from below.
The AAUP believes that the sense of community that we enjoy as faculty is derived from a common enterprise for the common good. That means that there has to be some sense of membership in this common enterprise. But in order to feel membership, you must also feel empowered from the leadership of the university. Certainly at Tulane and apparently at UNO decisions are being made without faculty participation, and that is not right, and if at the same time you are being deprived of that modest amount of protection, that is also not right and critical-minded thinkers must say so.
What can the national office of the AAUP do to help? We need to strategize today about what specific steps can be taken.
Audience: the AAUP has written two very good letters to Tulane University and raised good questions and the Tulane president has responded but has not said very much. Can you send someone down to start asking questions, especially about the kind of money that has been coming into the university from a variety of sources. We aren't going to get anywhere until we get hard facts. We have been told by knowledgeable people that when all is said and done, Tulane will make money on the disaster. Over a third of the Medical School faculty has been terminated, including a large number of tenured faculty. We need to get started as soon as possible.
Bowen: in the mid 1990s, the AAUP sent two committees of inquiry, one to West Point and one to the University of California. The issue at West Point was academic freedom and at the University of California it was sexual harassment. Both committees produced lengthy reports, and in both cases significant improvement occurred without the matter of censure. Sometimes, therefore, a committee of inquiry is the most effective measure. Once it has done its work, we can put together a reasonable report of what we think the situation is and what the consequences would be. It is an expensive undertaking, as it typically involves five or six people and a week or so.
Audience: the large majority of participants expressed support for a committee of inquiry that would look at the entire situation in New Orleans, although some people thought that it would be more effective for a single institution to be focussed on. One audience member put the situation of higher education in the larger context: namely, that the public education system of New Orleans had been largely taken over by the state, most schools turned into charter schools, and all teachers fired. Xavier University fired all of its faculty and then selectively rehired some of them. Southern University-New Orleans has terminated a number of programs. It was suggested that the AAUP approach the Commissioner of Higher Education for the State of Louisiana. It was stated that there is an assault on education generally. An audience member spoke in favor of a broader inquiry because other institutions are moving; there is a plan to be announced at Loyola that will result in programs being eliminated in a month without financial damage being assessed. Audience members pointed out the number of faculty members who are leaving or retiring voluntarily and asked why programs and remaining faculty need to be gutted. Administrators say that funds are coming but we don't have them in hand, therefore we have to make cuts now. They have not shown that there is a real need for the cuts. And cuts create difficulties in attracting students. There was an affirmation that the Commissioner of Higher Education presents a stumbling point: a plan has been floated that will do great damage to higher education by cutting funding but it has been termed a plan to "strengthen" higher education and the Commissioner supports it enthusiastically. Another faculty member pointed out that Chancellor Ryan had taken steps to support the faculty: he was under pressure in the late fall to cut half the faculty but he waited until the students came back for the spring semester and the result was that far fewer faculty positions are being proposed for cutting. He is trying to do the right thing, but he uses a corporate model that excludes the faculty. He makes a strong case for the need for a declaration of financial exigency because of the shortfall, but the problem is that he uses only the operating budget and some believe that he is hiding money that could be used to tide the university over. So some sort of audit from someone who knows about these things would be helpful. Support for an inquiry that would address many institutions was expressed because of the fact that this is such an unusual situation. In recent days some of the local newspapers have been listening to what Chancellor Ryan has been saying about the importance of faculty retention and recruitment and the AAUP could reinforce that. Strong support was expressed by many participants for a general inquiry.
Bowen: Does the local capacity exist to coordinate the effort? There could be several visits. There is a need to learn from locals how money can be hidden.
Audience: There is an Association of Louisiana Faculty Senates that includes all state institutions and it has been active on these issues. The AAUP leadership at the local and state levels is strong and active; many AAUP members are also actively involved in their institutional governance structures and in ALFS.
Bowen: what was the process involved? How did it happen, the ease with which tenure was taken away?
Audience: at Tulane there was no involvement of chairs of departments in the decisions and apparently even many deans were not involved in decision-making. The faculty committee [secretary's note: the President's Faculty Advisory Committee of the University Senate] with whom the president discussed the plan was sworn to secrecy and told not to say anything outside the room or they were to be dismissed from the sessions. There is a similar situation at UNO, where a narrative was shared with a faculty committee but not the spread sheet and the chancellor was irate at the suggestion that there was less than adequate faculty involvement. How is the committee of inquiry to be imposed on Tulane, for example? The university may refuse to participate, or inaccurate information may be provided, and the result would be that the report of the committee of inquiry would be inaccurate.
Bowen: administrations usually cooperate but if they say no, we still do our work and then one may call into question the report of the committee, but the report will state if the information was partial. The key is that the entire national academy knows what is happening. In every issue of National Trusteeship there is an article by President Cowen saying what a wonderful thing is happening here. And the AAUP's role is to see if that is true.
Audience: at UNO there is a perceived lack of empowerment by faculty. Do you find that there is an assumption by the administration that the AAUP has no teeth? Discussion ensued about whether it would be better to have a committee of inquiry address the situation of all institutions or focus on one. Among the points made were that if Cowen-envy (as one member of the audience had termed what appears to be the collective psychology of other local presidents, who are coming up with plans for their institutions) is happening, then it is better to have a specific result, so it is possible to look at the general and the specific both. You have to know what you are getting into because of the hours put into it. You don't want to get involved for years and have nothing come of it.
Bowen: an inquiry would have an earlier result and does not have a specific outcome [i.e. censure]; but it could be a first step and could be followed by an investigation that would concern the question of censure.
Audience: is there any reason that they do not deserve censure right now?
Bowen: the AAUP has been as successful as it has because it tries not to prejudge; if you are cautious up front, the decision has much more validity. Independent judgment is based on facts; if you prejudge, why should they show you the books. But on the evidence, tenure is under attack at Tulane and apparently at UNO; that said, we want the evidence. It is important to understand as well that the president of Tulane has said that he will honor the appropriate procedures in the time after the declaration and until it can be shown that the procedures are not being followed, it is not possible to make a judgment. There is some evident on the LSU-Health Sciences Center website that their declaration and rules violate every principle that the AAUP endorses.
Audience: we talk about going to the Board of Regents, which derives its authority from committees of Administrators; they met every two weeks [during the fall] and received reports from the administrators of each university, but the Board of Regents has authority only over state institutions.
LSU Health Sciences Center: the process of force majeure exigency is to continue; many faculty members have gone on to find other positions or to retire. Due process steps have not been followed, appeals have not been heard. The last excuse was that they were waiting for the legislature to meet.
Support for inquiry, the sooner the better because we keep telling administrators that there are consequences and we have to show them that there are.
There are effects on faculty, students and staff at institutions under censure. Exactly what are they?
Bowen: Bob Kreiser, a seasoned member of the Committee A staff, will be taking a sabbatical next fall in order to write a comprehensive report on what has happened at censured institutions. This year there are two institutions we are planning to take off the censure list. Both got new presidents who don't want to labor under AAUP censure in hiring new faculty. Negotiations are now under way at one institution that is trying to keep from going on the censure list. On the other hand, one institution proclaims proudly on their website that they are on the censure list. Are you working with accrediting agencies to make sure that institutions on the censureship list are not getting accredited? We will be having that discussion with SACS [the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges, the accrediting agency for the South] because we believe that institutions cannot be accredited if academic freedom and shared governance are lacking. Members from censured or sanctioned institutions can work from within to bring about the changes that will result in censure or sanction being lifted.
Audience: Loyola published data yesterday; a few weeks ago, deans were asked to rank departments and one dean sent a letter protesting; a letter in the newspaper said that the deans' rankings were a small part of the decision; if the administration is not listening to the deans, then they are not listening to the faculty. Loyola suffered much less damage than any other institution: 92% of the students returned, there was no flooding on campus and little wind damage; it did not lose its bond rating. There is worry about recruiting the next fall's freshman class, but progress toward the usual number is good. A trustee was quoted as saying, "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste." [secretary's note: this bon mot's first recorded utterance was by a Louisiana legislator and it has been repeated by many]
We have to work on two different issues: an inquiry into what is happening in both Mississippi and Louisiana in terms of hiring chancellors/presidents without the involvement of the faculty, the support of the faculty and even at times with significant faculty opposition. If you focus on one institution that has already taken action, that might be an example to others. You could have a decision in a few weeks.
What were the metrics for saying departments were not nationally competitive or were underperforming? Calling colleagues underperforming causes damage to them. Certain terminated departments were doing well. The numbers of graduates from certain departments cited by the administration were less than half of the correct numbers; departments that were said to be in the red were really in the black. What about the use of relative rankings?
Bowen: Provide this information in advance.
Audience: leaning toward systemic because of fear that if one is chosen, the rest will think that it does not apply to them. Both in parallel: an inquiry into the Southern region in regard to an effort to abolish tenure and at the same time a specific institution chosen.
The need for national publicity for the fact that the universities were not destroyed by the storms.
What about the use of faculty senates and investigative journalism locally? Does the local media take an objective view of local institutions? A general audience consensus that the local media do not.
Not only the large campuses have been affected, but smaller ones such as LSU-Alexandria and LSU-Eunice have seen this as a wonderful opportunity to ask faculty to teach four or five courses. Faculty ask what to do? We have a need for mentoring; maybe this inquiry could start by having someone at the national office write a booklet on what faculty on each campus could do to address issues on their own campus. Higher-ups try to set one campus against another. UNO is under pressure but LSU A&M Baton Rouge is writing advertisements saying we are fine.
It is understandable in the context of a reduced or non-existent fall semester that institutions are saying that faculty have to have a heavier teaching load in the spring.
Bowen: the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which was appointed last fall by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and chaired by businessman Charles Miller of Texas, has produced a report saying that tenure is a waste, that it drives up expenses and that it is time to eliminate it, and that those who teach more courses per year will get to keep their jobs. There is a suggestion that what happens here might turn into a national model if they get their way. Miller puts a heavy emphasis on accountability, by which he means how many students can you teach in a semester in how many courses.
Audience: the very people who would want to have inquiries are the people who are targeted because they have been whistleblowers and I have been silenced. I agree but I have been silenced.
Bowen: anonymity will be respected, as it has been in the past
Audience: It's not only the stick but the carrot; there is talk of a raise being given to the remaining faculty.
Bowen: if you have information that you think will be helpful both on whether to go forward or suggestions on how to go forward, please communicate it with the national office.
Audience: perhaps the national office could get funding from foundations in the framework of rebuilding New Orleans, rebuilding the institutions of higher education.
Keep eyes on what we are dealing with: tenure, which is a contract; and we are dealing with an employment situation; we are employed and we have been given a contract and that is what has been breached when it was unnecessary.
Is it possible for the AAUP to censure the state or the state system? It has been reported recently that this is the richest fiscal year ever for the state, so the legislature should rescind the cuts.
Bowen: the State of New York University System is under censure, because it declared financial exigency and cut programs without giving a reason. Individual campuses of the system are not under censure, however; while the president at one of the campuses in that system I received an award from the AAUP.
The forum concluded at noon with a round of applause from the audience for Dr. Bowen's generous assistance to the Louisiana Conference on a Sunday morning.
After Dr. Bowen's departure, a working lunch was held contemporaneously with a panel presentation by members of the Loyola, Tulane, SUNO and LSU AgCenter faculties summarizing developments at their respective campuses.
The meeting concluded with the election of new officers, the slate having been prepared by Rosa Bustamante-Forest serving as Election Committee:
Al Burstein, President
Bill Stewart, Vice President
Charles Delzell, Treasurer,
Linda Carroll, Secretary
Carl Ventrice, Member at Large
Manjit Kang, Past President