Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Inside Higher Ed: Did Katrina Blow Away Layoff Guidelines?

From Inside Higher Ed :: Did Katrina Blow Away Layoff Guidelines?

Since Tulane University announced faculty layoffs in December, some faculty members have questioned the way the institution arrived at its post-Katrina reorganization plan, which involved cutting back 230 faculty members, 65 of whom are tenured. Now the Association of American University Professors is seeking some answers too....

The AAUP letter explains that Tulane’s “financial exigency has not been seriously disputed, although some have asserted that the magnitude of the exigency did not warrant so many terminated appointments.” Tulane has said it faced $200 million in recovery costs after Katrina, but faculty members say they have been kept in the dark about details.

The administration “may be right” about the way it arrived at its decisions, but “nobody has any idea about the figures,” said Boumediene Belkhouche, a professor of electrical engineering who has been at Tulane for 23 years, but will have to leave in June 2007, when his department is eliminated. Tulane declared financial exigency on Dec. 8, the day the public announcements about cutbacks were made, according to Mike Strecker, a Tulane spokesman. Said Belkhouche, “There were several forums [since the announcement], and [Cowen] wouldn’t give any numbers.” AAUP guidelines call for “a primary faculty role,” according to the letter, in determining criteria by which to cut back positions....

Tulane did conform to AAUP recommendations by informing cut professors — who can teach until June 2007 — at least 12 months in advance. However, in line with AAUP’s guidelines and outlined in the Tulane Faculty Handbook, termination of tenure due to financial exigency is “reviewed by the faculty of the division in which they hold appointment, then by the Senate Committee on Faculty Tenure, Freedom and Responsibility, with ultimate review of all controverted issues by the Tulane Board of Administrators.” All of the faculty members interviewed said that they have not been granted a review, and do not expect to have any. Belkhouche said that, at one of the forums, Cowen “bluntly said that the handbook is not enforceable.” In 1998, a Louisiana state court found that the handbook was not a legal contract, but rather a statement of “company policy.”...

Beyond AAUP guidelines and the faculty handbook, some faculty members are just miffed at what they said is a general lack of southern hospitality. Several faculty members would have preferred signed termination letters, rather than the stamped ones they said they received.

Before spending 27 years on the faculty, Cook was a student at Tulane, and spent 35 consecutive years there. Cook packed up his lab, and Tuesday was his last day at Tulane. “They have not even sent me an e-mail after 27 years on the faculty,” he said.

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