F. King Alexander 041317 (copy)

LSU President F. King Alexander, photographed on April 13, 2017, at a House Appropriations subcommittee meeting.

Advocate File Photo by Mark Ballard

Unlike many professors, Teresa Buchanan would probably not accuse today's university students of being “snowflakes.”

Certainly, she seems to share the sentiment, but it's more her style to call them a bunch of “pussies.”

That is why she is out of a job.

Buchanan was fired as a tenured associate professor of education at LSU in 2015 for habitual use of that and other profanities when instructing her students how to run a classroom.

She alleges in a lawsuit that her First Amendment rights have been violated, with “political correctness run amok.” Well, it wouldn't be the first time on a modern American campus. An unwillingness to confront different points of view is robbing academe of its intellectual rigor.

Thus, if Buchanan was fired to suppress her ideas, supporters of academic freedom should rush to her defense. But that would be a pretty highfalutin defense for a foul mouth, and LSU finally cried enough after receiving complaints from students. She was also banned from some public schools where LSU student teachers were assigned.

She, however, claims that her dismissal from LSU was a constitutional outrage and that the words that caused offense were “protected speech” as a component of her “pedagogical strategy.”

According to her lawsuit, swearing is “part of the common vernacular even among very young children today, and teacher-education students need to be aware that they will be confronted with that language and professionally decide how they will respond.”

Well, if even very young children are used to profanity, it is hardly necessary to prepare university students for the shock of hearing it when they go out in the big, wide world. Moreover, a dirty mouth generally bespeaks a poorer vocabulary than we expect from professors.

Not that Buchanan was involved in the more elevated academic disciplines. She taught in the kindergarten through third-grade and had been at LSU for 19 years when she was fired. In 2013, she had been recommended for promotion to full professor but was removed from consideration because by then the complaints were coming in. Then her supervisors at LSU decided she should go.

A faculty committee weighed in, conducting a hearing and concluding that Buchanan had violated LSU's sexual harassment policies “through her use of profanity, poorly worded jokes, and sometimes sexually explicit ‘jokes’ in her teaching methodologies.” Nevertheless, an esprit de corps is common in such committees, and this one recommended against firing her.

LSU President F. King Alexander, however, sided with his administrators and advised the board of supervisors that Buchanan should get the heave-ho.

Alexander and the LSU officials who engineered her downfall are named as defendants in her lawsuit, and they question whether they even should be, since it was the board of supervisors who let her go. That issue awaits the consideration of a federal judge.

So does Buchanan's claim that her due process rights were violated because LSU did not adequately spell out the allegations against her or afford her a chance to repudiate them. LSU says it ain't so and that transcripts of a hearing held by an investigative committee show that “numerous witnesses testified” and that Buchanan had an opportunity to question them and put on evidence of her own. Whether LSU followed proper procedures is a question of fact that should be simple enough to resolve. The question that matters is whether Buchanan' technique was an exercise in academic freedom or, as LSU sees it, “harassment directed toward numerous students which created a hostile learning environment.”

According to LSU, Buchanan was advised by her department head to quit the cussing as long ago as 2012 but declined to moderate her language. Students allegedly complained en masse about her “sexual comments” and attending her class was variously described as “intimidating,” “mortifying” and “humiliating.”

Whether such a “pedagogical strategy” helped to equip students for the rough and tumble of teaching six- and seven-year-olds is open to question, and Buchanan's colleagues evidently felt they could do so without turning the air blue.

On the other hand, it is hard to deny that today's students get their feelings hurt very easily. It must have been quite a shock to arrive in Baton Rouge expecting a safe plac and wind up in Buchanan's class.

Email James Gill at jgill@theadvocate.com.