Final Renewal Plan Cuts Go into Effect
The close of this semester marks the end of programs slated for elimination in Tulane University's post-Katrina Renewal Plan. Cut programs in the business and engineering schools were allowed to continue so students could finish degrees, but come June 30, the programs will shut their doors. Affected groups include all but two engineering departments and multiple business school programs.
Though the Renewal Plan was announced almost a year and a half ago in December of 2005, some faculty in terminated programs remain outraged by the decisions made by President Scott Cowen and the Board of Administrators. They question the reasoning behind program cuts and dismissal of tenured professors. Cowen claims the university was in a state of financial exigency after Hurricane Katrina and that cuts were necessary to keep the school open and out of bankruptcy.
The American Association of University Professors acts as a union for faculty. After the sweeping faculty cuts of the Renewal Plan, the AAUP was concerned there was not meaningful faculty involvement in these decisions, that tenured faculty were dismissed without all other options exhausted and that financial exigency was not proven.
"Financial exigency means that the university will not continue to exist unless certain situations change," said Linda Carroll, the president of the Tulane chapter of AAUP, secretary of the Louisiana conference and a district representative to the national council. "The financial health of the university must require that you cut the programs that are cut. It's not clear to me that the engineering and business schools were in that situation."
The AAUP can censure Tulane if it feels that the university did not follow their guidelines or respect the conditions laid out by the Faculty Handbook when faculty were terminated after Katrina. Censure, the most extreme action taken the AAUP, could make Tulane less attractive to potential new faculty and prevent the university from competing for funding from certain institutions.
President Cowen maintains that all cuts detailed in the Renewal Plan were made in the university's best interest.
"The cuts brought about because of Katrina represent the most difficult decision I and the Board of Tulane have ever had to make. However, they were absolutely necessary for Tulane University to continue to operate as one of the country's top universities," Cowen said. "In making these difficult decisions we strictly followed the guidelines of our faculty handbook. Katrina was an event unprecedented in the history of higher education and, indeed, the United States. The AAUP has never been confronted by an issue such as this and we, along with every other university that survived Katrina, have been in regular communication with the AAUP, informing them of the necessity and appropriateness of our processes."
Mechanical engineering faculty disputed the charge to cut their program shortly after the Renewal Plan went into effect. The University Senate's Faculty Tenure, Freedom and Responsibility Committee reviewed the department and determined it was financially viable at the time of the cuts based on the information presented to the committee. The department had consistently outperformed other engineering departments in trying to meet financial targets set by the engineering dean.
"What I can say about the mechanical engineering case is that they presented what seemed to me to be a plausible case that they, unlike some other Engineering departments, were solvent," said classics professor Joe Poe, a member of the FTFR Committee. "When we asked for a concrete rebuttal from the administration, they simply refused."
The mechanical engineering program was eliminated despite strong evidence that it was financially viable. Faculty let go in the cuts are expected to leave the university in June.
"I found out the program was cut from a conference call in early December ," said Richard Watts, a mechanical engineering professor who taught at Tulane for 43 years. "There were some graduate students who knew before we did. To say I was surprised would be too easy. I was amazed."
In a 1997 external task force report, the Tulane School of Engineering was deemed "well respected and efficient" and "fundamentally sound" in its operations. Watts feels that if it was allowed to continue, the school of engineering could have made a vital contribution to the rebuilding of the city and the recovery of the school.
"We could have advertised that there were hands-on engineering opportunities at Tulane," Watts said. "In my opinion, we would have been awash with money. We lost the opportunity because of the lack of vision."
For some professors who were let go, finding a new job will be difficult.
"There are areas in the [School of Science and Engineering] where most people could contribute," Watts said. "The young people mostly landed on their feet. It's the middle-aged people who suffered. It's hard to find a place for a 50-year-old professor."
The faculty cuts have raised the question of whether or not tenure was respected in making termination decisions. According to the AAUP, the Faculty Handbook requires all other options be exhausted before tenured professors are fired. However, some faculty feel that tenured positions may have been specifically targeted in the cuts. In an e-mail from Business School Dean Angelo DeNisi to Yasemin Aksoy, a terminated tenured professor of Operations Management, DeNisi said, "It was quite difficult to carry out the university's mandate that we separate tenured faculty to the tune of $1.5 million in salary."
Aksoy's field, operations management, was eliminated. There is not a single university with a business school that does not have either a required course or a degree program in Operations Management, Askoy said.
She finds it hard to understand how her program was chosen to be cut since there are no departmental divisions in the business school. Without such divisions, the university could not determine which programs were financially unstable.
"It is different than engineering. There, there were already clear-cut departments. When we get tenure, we understand that if there is financial exigency and departments are cut, we're gone," Aksoy said. "In the business school, there are courses and there are fields, but no departments. So it was fishy. It looks like they're picking and choosing [what to cut]."
More than 150 full-time faculty were eliminated during the Renewal Plan, but in the aftermath of the program cuts, more faculty have voluntarily left the university. Carroll said that between resignations and retirements, more than 40 faculty have left or are leaving in the School of Liberal Arts alone.
Deborah McGrady, the interim director of the honors program and French professor, is leaving after this semester. After the Ph.D. program in French was cut, McGrady felt like her place at Tulane was lost, but she returned in the hopes that the program would be reinstated.
"During the first semester after Katrina, it was clear they weren't reopening the program," McGrady said. "We asked the administration about it, and they said they'd meet with us in 2010."
The French graduate program had been consistently ranked in the top 10 in the nation. McGrady will head to the University of Virginia in the fall. Like many faculty, McGrady is sad to leave Tulane and New Orleans, but she has not felt the same since the Renewal Plan went into effect.
"Tulane is still a great place to be," McGrady said. "But now, I just don't see where I fit."
Copyright 2007, Hullabaloo
From: The Hullabaloo, Tulane University, New Orleans, April 27, 2007, http://media.www.thehullabaloo.com/..., accessed 06/12/2007. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.