LSU faculty members are raising concerns over the firing of an associate education professor over language used in the classroom and comments she made to students.
University leaders say professor Teresa Buchanan created a hostile learning environment and had to be terminated.
But the Faculty Senate spent more than an hour Wednesday debating a resolution that would condemn the university’s actions.
“This is a very frightening action that the university has taken,” said veterinary medicine professor George Strain, one of the resolution’s 15 faculty sponsors.
The group took no formal action on the symbolic resolution, opting instead to gather more information on the case and revisit the issue next month.
The LSU Board of Supervisors, during a meeting at LSU’s Alexandria campus in June, voted unanimously in favor of firing Buchanan at LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander’s recommendation.
In a nearly 10-minute speech to faculty near the start of the Faculty Senate’s Wednesday meeting, Alexander stood by that decision.
“LSU fully supports both tenure and academic freedom as essential aspects of a nationally respected research and teaching institution,” Alexander said before the resolution was directly addressed. “The dismissal was not an encroachment on either.”
Buchanan was not in attendance.
Over the course of the meeting, several faculty members said they worried that due process had not been followed, that the university was attempting to “protect” students who didn’t need nor ask for such protection from profanity, and that the facts of the case remained murky.
Brooks Ellwood, a geology professor who was appointed to serve as an independent observer in the case, said he didn’t know Buchanan prior to the ordeal, but he has sided with her in the dispute.
“She was really trashed by our president, but recognize, please, that her evaluations — all the way through ... there were no negative evaluations,” he told the crowd after Alexander spoke. “She was never asked to tone down her language or anything like that.”
Alexander argued that Buchanan was found to have “created a ‘hostile learning environment,’ including recurring sexual harassment.”
And he took issue with earlier reports of the dispute as being over so-called “salty” language.
“The evidence, as ascertained by a faculty hearing committee and university administrators, students and other faculty, is that over the course of several years, the faculty member had berated, embarrassed, disparaged, maligned and denigrated young, primarily female students who aspired to become elementary school teachers,” he said. “The number of student complaints about this faculty member’s abuse likely would have been even higher had there not been fear by students that reporting the faculty member would lead to retribution.”
But several faculty members Wednesday said the university went too far. The proposed resolution calls for “censure” of Alexander and two other administrators — a move that stops short of a vote of “no confidence.” They also think that Buchanan should get her job back, while undergoing a process to address any concerns or complaints that have been lodged.
The American Association of University Professors issued a report Wednesday condemning Buchanan’s termination. LSU had been working to move off AAUP’s censure list, which it has been on for some time due to past concerns over academic freedom issues. The AAUP report argues that Buchanan’s actions didn’t meet the punishment and that LSU went too far.
“Whatever the provisions of LSU’s sexual harassment policy, as a legal matter, isolated off-color comments not directed at anybody in particular do not constitute a hostile work environment or any other violation of sex-discrimination law,” AAUP’s report states.
Alexander claimed Buchanan’s actions bring up issues of state and federal law, and could cost LSU federal funding.
“Beyond violations of university policy and issues of state and federal law, it is also important to remember that when a faculty member engages in uncivil behavior in the performance of his/her professional duties and is not reproved by colleagues and is not called to account by the university, not only are students harmed, but the profession is demeaned and the university is degraded as an institution,” he told the faculty.