LSU broke its silence Wednesday about the June 19 firing of associate professor Teresa Buchanan, saying she was fired not only for isolated incidents of using curse words and making sexually themed jokes but also because of “documented evidence of a history of inappropriate behavior that included verbal abuse, intimidation and harassment of our students.”
In a written statement, LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard on Wednesday said the university is belatedly speaking out because news reports on the firing of Buchanan “have not been entirely factual.”
In firing Buchanan, LSU is ensuring the university continues to be a “harassment-free environment,” Ballard wrote.
Before Wednesday’s statement, Ballard twice refused to comment to The Advocate, saying it was a personnel matter and involved possible litigation.
The statement comes a day after the American Association of University Professors, in its own review of the case, concluded 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.”
Ballard painted a much different picture in his statement, saying Buchanan’s firing is “not about the rights of tenured professors or academic freedom” but rather about protecting students.
“Dr. Buchanan created a consistently hostile and abusive environment in the classroom,” Ballard said.
From the day she was first removed from teaching duties on Dec. 20, 2013, Buchanan has denied allegations she engaged in sexual harassment. Instead, she’s described the investigation of her as a “witch hunt” and said she plans to sue for wrongful dismissal.
In response to Wednesday’s statement from LSU, Buchanan said the university’s evidence is lacking.
“The documented evidence I’ve seen is primarily limited to student evaluations,” Buchanan said Wednesday. “The things they refer to were taken out of context and inaccurate. This certainly is an issue of academic freedom and free speech.
“Not every student liked me, and my methods were somewhat unorthodox, but every student learned,” she added.
Buchanan was a tenured professor specializing in early childhood education and ran a teacher training program. She started at LSU in 1995.
LSU’s statement on Wednesday never describes Buchanan’s behavior as sexual harassment or tries to explain why Buchanan’s behavior violates two university sexual harassment policies, one dealing with students, another with employees, that were cited by the university in terminating Buchanan.
In pursuing Buchanan’s termination, LSU Chancellor and President F. King Alexander dismissed the recommendations of a committee of five faculty members, who suggested the education professor keep her job but receive a letter of censure.
During an 11-hour dismissal review hearing held March 9, LSU administrators accused Buchanan of a pattern of abusive, though usually not sexual, behavior.
However, in their report issued March 20, the faculty members excluded much of this evidence, describing it as third-party statements and “matters outside the purview of the specific charges raised.”
The committee concluded Buchanan had created a “hostile learning environment” that amounted to sexual harassment but focused only on her “use of profanity, poorly worded jokes, and sometimes sexually explicit jokes in her teaching methodologies.”
The review committee cited three “notable” instances: 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.
In his statement Wednesday, Ballard noted that Buchanan “has been asked not to return to more than one elementary school in the Baton Rouge area within the last three years because of her inappropriate behavior.”
Buchanan said the selective teacher training program she founded in 2002 is demanding, likening it to being an intern in medical school. She said she hasn’t always seen eye to eye with the leaders of the local schools she’s worked at but said the program nevertheless has produced many strong teachers. She said other LSU professors in the program took over the monitoring of student-teachers in isolated cases of conflict with school administrators.
In a written response to the accusations that she completed in October, Buchanan said her approach can rub people the wrong way, especially among educators of young children who prize people who are “nice” above everything else:
“What a teacher or student might call ‘rude’ might be also called ‘blunt.’ What a teacher or student might call ‘unprofessional’ might also called be ‘honest.’ And what a teacher or student might call ‘cruel’ might also be called ‘holding high standards with low tolerance for poor teaching.’ ”