Wednesday, January 13, 2010

AAUP Reports Outrageous Violations of Faculty Rights at Clark Atlanta University

Imagine yourself in this situation. After the semester has begun, your administration notifies you and some sixty of your colleagues, a quarter of the total faculty, that your positions have been eliminated and your employment has been terminated, effective immediately. You are directed to surrender your ID and keys, shut down your computer, remove all personal effects from your office, and leave the campus within one hour—under escort by security guards. And why? Because you are the victim of an administration that has manufactured a crisis and arbitrarily decided, with no due process, to terminate your position and the positions of scores of your colleagues.

Far-fetched? So it might seem. But that is exactly what the administration of Clark Atlanta University did last spring. Making the bogus claim of an “enrollment emergency,” CAU fired sixty full-time faculty members, egregiously violated tenure rights, trampled on fundamental AAUP principles as well as provisions of the university’s faculty handbook, and ignored the basic concept of academic due process. These are but some of the findings of arbitrary and outrageous administrative behavior revealed by a new AAUP investigating committee report.

The report was produced by a committee of AAUP members with no previous involvement in the situation who reviewed extensive documentation and interviewed current and former faculty and administrators.

Among the report’s main findings:

The claim that the university was in the midst of an “enrollment emergency” was unsubstantiated and indeed was contradicted by a former administrator responsible for managing enrollments, suggesting that the claim was a pretext to justify dismissing faculty members.

The administration selected faculty members for release based mainly on its unsubstantiated assessment of their lack of merit, effectively dismissing them for cause but without any demonstration of what the cause was.

The dismissed professors were denied basic academic due process to which they were entitled under the university’s own regulations as well as under AAUP-supported standards.

The four weeks of severance salary offered by the administration to all the fired faculty members was sorely deficient.
The administration pressured vulnerable faculty members to forfeit any right to appeal the dismissal and to release the university from any further claims by offering a modest additional amount of severance pay—two to eight weeks.

The administration made no serious or good-faith effort to consult with faculty before taking the drastic step of terminating a quarter of the faculty and, in fact, showed consistent disregard for established faculty governance bodies.

The AAUP is well aware of the challenges that currently face many higher education institutions. The case of Clark Atlanta University, however, provides a negative object lesson in how to address those challenges—with arbitrary administrative actions grounded in dubious evidence (and undertaken in some cases against the evidence), without consultation with the faculty, and with total disregard for academic due process, not to mention good management and basic decency. At stake are not just the jobs of individual professors and collective faculty rights, but also educational quality, the students, the university, and the larger community that it purports to serve.

The Association’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure authorized the publication of the report. Committee A, when reporting in June to the AAUP’s 2010 Annual Meeting, will present a statement on Clark Atlanta University that may include a recommendation for imposing censure. See more information on how Committee A works.

The AAUP Online is an electronic newsletter of the American Association of University Professors. Learn more about the AAUP. Visit us on Facebook.

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