National organization defends LSU professor fired for spicy language, risqué jokes _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU professor Teresa Buchanan says she was dismissed in a 'witchhunt' over her occasional use of profanity in the classroom.

The top national organization of university professors on Tuesday urged LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander to reconsider the recent firing of associate professor Teresa Buchanan, saying it places the university well outside of the “mainstream of our secular research universities.”

The LSU Board of Supervisors on June 19 carried out Alexander’s recommendation to terminate the 20-year veteran of LSU for using curse words and for telling the occasional sexually themed joke to undergraduate students. Her behavior created what university administrators described as a “hostile learning environment” that amounted to sexual harassment.

Instances of alleged sexual harassment cited by LSU include saying “F*** no” repeatedly in the presence of students, using a slang term for vagina that implies cowardice and telling a joke that the quality of sex gets worse the longer a relationship lasts.

The American Association of University Professors, however, reached a different conclusion than LSU. It found that Buchanan was fired simply for “having used language that is not only run-of-the-mill these days for much of the academic community but also is protected conduct under principles of academic freedom.”

The letter, signed by Jordan E. Kurland, the AAUP’s associate general counsel, asks Alexander to respond by Monday.

LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard declined to comment Tuesday on the AAUP letter.

LSU is entering its third year under censure from the AAUP, which has more than 47,000 members nationwide, for the university’s treatment of its faculty members. In February, Alexander informed the AAUP that LSU was taking no more action “at this time” to get its name taken off the organization’s censure list.

LSU’s Baton Rouge campus has the distinction of being the only public flagship university on that censure list. Censure status is generally seen as a blemish on a school’s reputation that can hamper faculty recruitment and retention.

Buchanan, who specializes in early childhood education and trains elementary school teachers, has maintained that she never sexually harassed anyone.

She said Tuesday that she’s gratified by the AAUP defense of her, and she hopes Alexander reconsiders his decision and reinstates her.

“If he does, top scholars on the job market will be less wary of joining the LSU faculty,” she said. “It is very difficult to get tenure at LSU, and if tenure is so perilous that a few poorly-chosen statements jeopardize employment, frankly, it would be better to get a job elsewhere.”

In pursuing Buchanan’s termination, Alexander dismissed the recommendations of a committee of five faculty members that said the early education professor should keep her job, but should receive a letter of censure.

While the committee found that the 53-year-old academic’s adult language and humor violated university policies that protect students and employees from sexual harassment, it found no evidence Buchanan’s comments were “systematically directed at any individual.” The committee also faulted the university for rushing into an investigation rather than having the chair of Buchanan’s department try to resolve matters first.

Buchanan, a tenured faculty member, who started at LSU in 1995, describes herself as a victim of a “witch hunt” and is raising money through a legal defense fund established with the Louisiana chapter of the AAUP to take the university to court for wrongful dismissal.