Local Universities Post-Katrina
Hurricane Katrina resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to New Orleans universities and colleges. The mind-boggling devastation created a deluge of property damage, revenue losses, fiscal crises, declining enrollment, and cuts in faculty and programs implemented by university administrators who resorted to extraordinary measures for extraordinary times.
Whether Tulane University's declaration of financial exigency, Southern University at New Orleans' force majeure, or Loyola University's restructuring plan, the cadre of higher education institutions implemented financial strategies and restructuring programs to balance budgets and stave off blood-red fiscal deficits. The widespread faculty and program cuts, while they were more Draconian at some universities than others, have still prompted many faculty and faculty watchdog organizations to cry foul at the apparent wholesale, fast-track implementation by university administrators of restructuring plans and agendas that allegedly threaten the fundamental tenets of due process, faculty governance, tenure, and academic freedom. Critics argue that financial exigency and other restructuring plans are being used by the universities not just as vehicles of rebuilding damaged institutions to financial and academic health, but as
Now as New Orleans commemorates Katrina's one year anniversary, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a national faculty professional and watchdog organization, has sent a blue-ribbon committee of inquiry headed by First Amendment expert Robert M. O'Neil to investigate individually and collectively an array of faculty concerns and allegations that New Orleans universities have substantively or procedurally violated the most basic tenets and protections of academic tenure, freedom and due process through improper faculty termination or layoffs in the name of fiscal crises.
"Robert O'Neil is one of the highest ranking authorities on the First Amendment of the Constitution," said Jordan E. Kurland, Associate General Secretary for National AAUP in Washington D.C. "This is probably the most ambitious undertaking for the AAUP since the 1950s," Kurland said. "The scope of this committee's potential work is highly unusual. We have very rarely done something of this magnitude. I refer you back to McCarthy in the 1950s when we had a special committee dealing with actions taken against professors who were considered pro-Communist."
"Here we are working on an array of problems at the seven or eight New Orleans institutions. To include the great deal of matters of concerns for us at one place or another adds up to an encyclopedia of issues." The AAUP's Special Committee on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Universities first met in May with nine experts from various academic fields to investigate Katrina-related issues, concerns and complaints emerging from administrative actions taken at the various universities that have allegedly violated AAUP and other professional guidelines. During August, members of the special committee have been compiling and evaluating documentation as well as interviewing faculty members, administrative and faculty officers and organizations regarding faculty terminations and other AAUP issues of concern.
The full special committee is meeting in New Orleans on August 28, 29 and 30 with chief officers from various New Orleans universities. Among those invited for interviews and discussions with the full committee are: Scott S. Cowen, Tulane University president; Timothy P. Ryan, UNO Chancellor; the Reverend Kevin Wm. Wildes, Loyola University President; Norman C. Francis, Xavier University President; Victor Ukpolo, SUNO Chancellor; Bill Jenkins, President of the LSU system; and Larry Hollier, Acting Chancellor of the LSU Health Sciences Center.
In a non-Katrina related matter, AAUP is also looking into faculty complaints at Our Lady of Holy Cross College. The special committee will then prepare a report later this year with committee results and recommendations for future actions which could ultimately end up in AAUP censure or sanction of none, some or all universities for violation of AAUP standards for academic tenure, freedom and governance. When a university ends up on the AAUP censure or sanction list, the institution's ability to recruit or retain faculty as well as students can be damaged.
"The only comment of substance I can offer is we were not there. We need to make it clear that since we were not there we cannot appreciate the magnitude and gravity of that experience and what it did to the institutions in the region," said O'Neil, Professor of Law at the University of Virginia and Director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. He is also past president of the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin systems.
"We have to keep reminding ourselves that life for the people and the colleges and the universities is profoundly altered and will never be the same," O'Neill said. "However, that distance does not prevent you from making helpful and sympathetic comments."
The University of New Orleans lost about
In late spring, UNO declared financial exigency with approval of the LSU Board of Supervisors. At the supervisors' meeting June 1 and 2, the board passed the UNO administration's recommendation. According the minutes of the meeting, "The proposal is that UNO will eliminate several departments and degree programs in the area of Human Performance and Health Promotion, Engineering Management, Economics, and Communications. The College of Urban and Public Affairs will be eliminated and replaced by the new School of Urban and Regional Studies, which will house a new department of planning, as well as the existing departments of anthropology and geography."
Barton explained that distinctions need to be made between departments and degree programs. For example, the College of Urban and Public Affairs was eliminated as an administrative unit. However, no degree programs were eliminated. Instead, those degree programs will continue to be offered through the new Department of Planning and the School of Urban and Regional Studies. The School of Urban and Regional Studies will include departments of anthropology, geography and planning. It will be housed in the College of Liberal Arts. Likewise, while the degree programs in economics were eliminated, the Department of Economics and Finance was not eliminated, and economic courses are still being taught.
Barton said that 83 faculty line positions were being eliminated, mostly through voluntary retirement or faculty leaving. Of these 83, 16 were furloughed against their will. Of the 16 furloughed against their will, nine (seven tenured and two untenured) did not appeal. All seven who are appealing the furlough notices are tenured faculty. While the cuts are painful, UNO administrators have stated that faculty and program cuts were essential to the health of the University. Such cuts were allegedly better able to protect the academic integrity and viability of the University.
"I think we've seen the end of the diaspora. We should be at the end of it," said Barton, who explained that financial exigency lasts for one year from July 1, 2006, to July 1, 2007. "While we are losing some fine individuals, at the same time many have stayed and will go forward. UNO will come back as strong as before."
UNO administrators appear not to be worried about any alleged improprieties or violations of AAUP guidelines nor inquiries by the AAUP Special Committee on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Universities which is interviewing UNO administrators, faculty and staff.
"AAUP is doing its job to come in and make sure things were done in a proper way," said Barton, who stressed that AAUP is looking at all the New Orleans universities. He also stressed that suspension of tenure under financial exigency lasts only one year. "UNO followed very carefully the bylaws and procedures that were laid out by the LSU system. Tenure as an idea is absolutely not under attack. Once the financial exigency is lifted, then tenure protections will return. If it weren't because of financial exigency, we would never have found ourselves in a position of having to give furlough notices. Nobody wants to do it
Yet Carl A. Ventrice, Jr., an associate professor in the department of physics at UNO, and other faculty dispute such claims. Ventrice, who has accepted a position at another university beginning this fall, believes UNO could lose another 100 faculty members in a new wave of departures next year in response to the administration's disregard of faculty tenure, academic freedom and governance through its financial exigency and restructuring plan. Ventrice also stated that all the furloughed professors received form letters that used general criteria instead of specific reasons why each individual was being furloughed.
"UNO is under financial exigency but the state of Louisiana has a record budget," said Ventrice, president of the UNO chapter of AAUP. "How do you make that kind of justification?"
"It's critical to go by tenure guidelines; otherwise you have completely arbitrary decisions made as to who is getting cut. That's what is happening at UNO. It is unthinkable that a state institution like UNO would leave it up to each dean to arbitrarily want to cut," Ventrice said. "Who would want to come to a university that does not honor tenure? How can you have a system where people with tenure are arbitrarily cut and have no protection?"
"Anyone external to UNO, looking at what UNO is doing, would say that UNO is self-destructing and becoming more of a four year or junior college," Ventrice said. "Even if you had honored the tenure system, it would take four to five years to rebuild. Now that you have eliminated tenure, it may be 20 years or more to come back as a research university."
Loyola University suffered minimal storm damage only about
In early April, the university first announced its majoring restructuring plan, which the Board of Trustees unanimously approved in May. Under the plan, 17 tenure or
University administrators claim that the restructuring plan was essential in response to the post-Katrina impact of declining enrollment and a budget deficit. They claim that the plan provides ways to create a stronger, better university with enhanced and attractive academic programs that best address students' needs as well as eliminate faculty and program redundancies. Further, they say the plan helps protect the integrity and solvency of Loyola's endowment for the future.
"Our restructuring plan, 'Pathways Toward Our Second Century,' is positioning us better to be who we need to be in the future," said John M. Cornwell, Loyola's Assistant Provost for Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment. Cornwell is also a professor of psychology.
Referring to AAUP's Special Committee on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Universities, Cornwell said that Loyola's restructuring plan was conceived, analyzed, discussed and implemented in accordance with all state, University and faculty handbook laws, rules and procedures.
"AAUP is the AAUP, not the Board of Trustees. Each of the universities has legal responsibilities to the Board of Trustees and eventually to the state legislature," said Cornwell. "The AAUP is a third party that looks at us and everybody in New Orleans to see what we did right and what we did wrong.
"The problem for all of us is the idea of downsizing, where people could actually lose their jobs
The necessity of Loyola's major restructuring plan is debatable in light of the minimal storm damage suffered by the university. Critics argue that faculty layoffs and program cuts were avoidable or, at the very least, that the restructuring plan lacked faculty input, was badly planned, used suspect data and was hastily railroaded through by administrators. They argue that any budget deficit could easily be addressed by borrowing on the interest of Loyola's large endowment. The plan allegedly disregarded AAUP and faculty guidelines and set a dangerous precedent of using financial crises as a mechanism to implement and further the university's agenda for fiscal and program restructuring without faculty involvement, as well as to circumnavigate tenure.
"The job I loved ended the 9th of April," said Mary I. Blue, Loyola Associate Professor of Communications, Director of Broadcasting, and Head of the Broadcast Production Sequence. Blue, one of the 17 faculty members cut, has accepted a
"Our administration is an interesting combination of incompetence, bad judgment and arrogance," said Blue, president of Loyola's AAUP Chapter. "They are hoping that as people are leaving this will go away. That's not what's happening. People are angry and part of the reason for that is Loyola was so undamaged. We have never declared financial exigency. Nor could we make a case to declare financial exigency." Regarding the AAUP inquiry of Loyola, she said: "I think it (Loyola) will be censured. The president is trampling all over the rules."
Xavier University suffered severe damage from Katrina, costing the university millions of dollars. Pre-Katrina, Xavier had 238 full-time faculty members. The number of faculty reinstated was 170. The original (pre-Katrina) faculty contracts were dissolved in October 2005, when the Board of Trustees met in emergency session. Financial exigency was declared at the university. Faculty were then rehired with replacement contracts beginning in late-October so as to secure them for their renewed teaching assignments beginning in January when the campus reopened. No returning faculty suffered any lapses in pay, benefits, etc. Xavier also continued to provide health benefits coverage through the end of the year for faculty and staff members who were not reinstated, even though their salaries ended on October 30.
Under financial exigency, the university is not strictly bound to honor faculty tenure or seniority status as far as layoffs or reinstatements. Despite severe faculty cuts, no programs were eliminated or restructured. Last fall, pre-Katrina enrollment was just below 4,100 students. When Xavier reopened in January, its enrollment was 3,091. Estimates for enrollment this fall range from 2,900 to 3,100 students.
"All in all, I would say that Xavier University is healthy and optimistic as the fall 2006 semester approaches," stated Warren Bell, Jr., Associate Vice President of University and Media Relations at Xavier University, in an e-mail. "We still face two formidable challenges, namely (a) raising the funds needed to pay for our campus recovery, in excess of
"As far as the AAUP Committee of Inquiry looking into issues of academic tenure, faculty governance, etc., Xavier looks forward to cooperating with that inquiry, as we always do," stated Bell. Still, a number of Xavier faculty members have voiced complaints that the University terminated all tenured and non-tenured faculty, then rehired faculty on a case-by-case basis without regard to tenure status. In a letter to AAUP, Xavier President Norman Francis called reports of tenure playing a negative part in faculty rehiring or retention as "totally inaccurate." The percentage of tenured faculty at Xavier is now higher than pre-Katrina, Francis claimed.
Southern University at New Orleans suffered between $400 and
Under force majeure, SUNO reduced 19 academic granting degrees, including English, mathematics, accounting, physics and chemistry. Students may take courses in these classes but cannot obtain a degree in these majors. The university does offer some undergraduate and graduate
"SUNO is the only open admission university in New Orleans. That means our university is open to a wide spectrum of people from diverse backgrounds," said Victor Ukpolo, SUNO Chancellor. "We are optimistic. We want to maintain the level of standards we used to have at the school, and we are trying to achieve it. We have to downsize the faculty without compromising the quality. We are working vigorously
In response to the AAUP committee of inquiry in New Orleans, Ukpolo said, "I am not going to comment on that except to say that they are a reputable organization and that we are going to treat them nicely and cordially and be respectful to them."
SUNO faculty members such as William Stewart, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work, are disappointed and appalled by the faculty, program and budget cuts implemented at SUNO not only by its administration but by the Louisiana Board of Regents and state legislative leadership who regard SUNO as little more than a stepchild of the larger universities. Such leadership had for a long time wanted to close SUNO, Stewart said. He believes that leadership saw the impact of Hurricane Katrina on SUNO as an opportunity to close the University. However, after Katrina, when they saw the potential firestorm of racial and political implications of overtly closing New Orleans' only
"The biggest disappointment for me is there was an opportunity to do something positive for New Orleans' universities and it turned into something negative," said Stewart, President of the Association of Louisiana Faculty Senates and Vice President of the Louisiana State AAUP.
"There is a very real question whether we should call ourselves a university. It was completely unnecessary. The chancellor furloughed more faculty than he had to," said Stewart, who worries about the widespread abuse by University administrators of financial hardships as modus operandi to undermine tenure protections and academic freedom.
"I don't see how AAUP can back off of this and not take a stand. If they don't, there could an epidemic of these kinds of things across the country," Stewart said.
Tulane University's Board of Administrators declared financial exigency late last year. The university adopted its Plan for Renewal in response to major
Michael T. Strecker, Director of Public Relations at Tulane University, reported that because of Katrina, Tulane had to separate 429
The renewal plan called for the suspension of 14 doctoral programs and the elimination of four engineering majors and the exercise and sports science major. The School Of Engineering is no longer a separate school. The plan also included the suspension of eight sports and merged the Tulane College (for men) and the H. Sophie Newcomb College (for women) into the Newcomb Tulane College for all undergraduates. The School of Medicine was hardest hit, losing an estimated 35% of its faculty.
Tulane has suffered enrollment losses as well. In 2004, fall enrollment was 13,214. There was no fall enrollment in 2005 because of Katrina. Spring enrollment was 11,307 and the projected fall enrollment for 2006 is 10,000.
"Tulane University is open and fully functioning as one of the nation's leading research and education institutions," Strecker stated via
"Because of the unprecedented challenges of Hurricane Katrina, Tulane University, in consultation with a
"Perhaps the biggest challenge we face in our recovery is countering the negative image of New Orleans that people around the country have as a result of national media coverage. This makes recruiting students from out of state more difficult."
Regarding faculty layoffs, Strecker stated, "The cuts that were made were done strategically and within the context of the Renewal Plan. The separation of faculty and other employees from Tulane University was a painful and difficult decision but was necessary in order to ensure the academic and financial survival of Tulane after Katrina. The separations were made in adherence to our Faculty Handbook, which was approved by Tulane's faculty. To the extent that AAUP guidelines were incorporated in the Handbook, they were followed."
Yet critics of Tulane's renewal plan argue that the plan lacked meaningful faculty input prior to implementation and that the guidelines for faculty termination were vague or nonexistent and the timetables for separation varied greatly. Those critics question whether department politics, age or other discrimination agendas played a part in faculty layoffs and whether such severe layoffs are now needed in light of the University's present financial picture.
"People have a lot of questions as to what yardstick, what criteria were used, why this person stays and this person goes," said Linda Carroll, professor of Italian and past president of the AAUP Tulane chapter. "Many people have questions what the real reasons were."
From: Where Y'AT, New Orleans' Monthly Entertainment Magazine, September, 2006, http://www.whereyatnola.com/page.php?id=397, accessed 09/27/06. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.