AAUP’s letter to Carlton Brown, President of CAU

Thanks to all who read my previous blog on CAU faculty layoffs, including my wife, a tenured Associate Prof in Biology. With the permission of Bob Kreiser, Associate Secretary of the American Association of University Professors, I’m posting his letter to President Carlton Brown, faxed March 6, 2009. The AAUP has received no response to date.

clark_atlanta_massive_layoffs_march_2009_letter

VIA FACSIMILE

March 6, 2009

Dr. Carlton E. Brown
President
Clark Atlanta University
223 James P. Brawley Drive, S.W.
Atlanta, Georgia 30314

Dear President Brown:

Numerous former members of the faculty at Clark Atlanta University, some of them with tenure and decades of service at the institution and most of them in the School of Arts and Sciences, have sought the advice and assistance of the American Association of University Professors. They have done so as a result of the letter dated February 6, 2009, that each of them received from Director of Human Resources Valerie Vinson, delivered in many cases by their dean, notifying them that their position at the university “has been eliminated and [their] employment . . . has ended effective today.” According to the letter, “The elimina-tion . . . is part of a University-wide reduction in the work force designed to reduce costs and gain operational efficiencies.” (You are quoted in the Atlanta press as having stated that the university is in “a financial posture that remains strong,” but that “the layoffs were necessitated by an ‘enrollment emergency’ exacerbated by current economic conditions.”) We understand that each of these faculty members was given thirty days of unconditional severance salary and issued a “Separation and Release Agreement” under which they would receive additional severance payments ranging from two to six weeks of “base salary” depending on the length of their service at CAU but conditioned on their signing a waiver of all claims against the university and any rights to pursue internal or external remedies. We understand further that affected faculty members, upon being notified of their layoff, were directed to surrender their identification cards and office keys, shut down their computers (at which point their passwords were disabled), and remove their personal effects within the hour and exit the campus. We are told that some of them were instructed not to set foot on campus again without prior permission or face charges of trespassing— treatment more characteristic of suspension and dismissal for cause than of layoffs necessitated by an enrollment emergency. Nor, they complain, does such treatment seem to accord with your January 29 letter to the entire CAU faculty, written in anticipation of the notices issued on February 6, in which you stated that “All personnel actions . . . will be

President Carlton E. Brown
March 6, 2009
Page Two

completed with the utmost care and respect afforded to the affected employees and their families.”

Our Association’s interest in these matters stems from its longstanding commitment to academic freedom and tenure, the basic tenets of which are set forth in the enclosed 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. That document, as you are no doubt aware, was coauthored by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and has received the endorsement of more than 200 educational and scholarly
organizations. Derivative principles and procedural standards are found in the Association’s enclosed Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. We have noted the relevant provisions of CAU’s Faculty Handbook.

Fundamental to the 1940 Statement of Principles and generally to the system of tenure in higher education is that tenure can be terminated for stated cause, its adequacy to be demonstrated by the institution’s administration in a hearing of record before a duly constituted faculty body. The 1940 Statement speaks to cause in the sense of questioning an individual’s fitness to continue. It also allows under extraordinary circumstances for termination of faculty appointments on the basis of “financial exigency,” which “should be demonstrably bona fide.” Regulation 4c of our Recommended Institutional Regulations sets forth the AAUP’s formulation of criteria and procedural standards in the area of concern. In addition to dismissal for cause and termination mandated by financial exigency, the Association recognizes that termination of tenured faculty appointments may occur because of the formal discontinuance of an entire program or department of instruction essentially based on educational considerations rather than mandated by financial exigency. (See Regulation 4d of the Recommended Institutional Regulations.) The Association does not recognize “enrollment emergency”—defined in the CAU Faculty Handbook (Section 2.8.5.2) “as either a sudden or unplanned progressive decline in student enrollment the detrimental financial effects of which are too great or too rapid to be offset by normal procedures in the Handbook”—as a legitimate basis for terminating tenured appointments or nontenured appointments before the end of their specified term. Moreover, we believe that our standards set forth in Regulation 4c relating to “financial exigency” address a more urgent condition than an “enrollment emergency.”

We appreciate that Clark Atlanta University has experienced a serious decline in student enrollment in recent years, but we have basic concerns over how the declaration of enrollment emergency has apparently been implemented. We have examined Section 2.8.5.2 of the handbook, and we find no statement of the criteria and procedures to be followed in arriving at a declaration of enrollment emergency. Moreover, according to what we have thus far learned from faculty and media sources, the administration has not provided specific information concerning what criteria were used to determine which faculty positions would be eliminated. Faculty members, both those whose services have been terminated and those who have not been affected, have questioned the magnitude and

President Carlton E. Brown
March 6, 2009
Page Three

suddenness of the claimed enrollment difficulties. They have further complained about the failure of the administration to demonstrate that the declared enrollment emergency warranted the terminations of faculty appointments or necessitated that the layoffs be effected so precipitately, in the middle of the semester. In addition, they have questioned the lack of meaningful faculty participation— either by the faculty as a whole or by a representative body of the faculty—in the discussions that preceded the declaration of enrollment emergency and in the subsequent decisions to single out particular appointments for termination. They also complain that the administration declined to explore all feasible alternatives to the termination of appointments after other apparently viable options were proposed by the Faculty Assembly.

In addition, directly affected faculty members have sharply challenged the actions taken in their individual cases. They contend that in many instances their appointments as tenured members of the faculty have been terminated, contrary to the applicable AAUP-recom-mended standard and the university’s own official policies (see Section 2.8.5.5.1.B.5, “Order of Layoff Within a Department or Program”), in favor of retaining nontenured colleagues, many of whom are now teaching courses, typically as overloads, that the tenured faculty had been teaching at the time of the layoffs. They further contend that the administration, here, too, acting in disregard of the AAUP’s applicable standard, has made no effort to relocate them elsewhere in the institution. They are concerned as well at the scant amount of severance salary they have been provided. (Under Regulation 8 of the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations, tenured faculty and all others with at least eighteen months of continuous full-time service should receive twelve months’ notice or severance salary.) Finally, the affected faculty members are also troubled about the adequacy of the procedures available to contest the action taken against them on the basis of a claimed enrollment emergency. By contrast with what is called for under Association-supported standards, the only procedure offered to them under the CAU regulations (Section 2.16) is a hearing before the faculty Review Committee, with the burden of proof on the affected faculty members to demonstrate why their services should not have been terminated.

Based on the information we currently have, we find the mass termination of faculty appointments at CAU to be grossly at odds with generally accepted principles of academic due process and academic freedom. Moreover, members of the faculty are expressing fear
that further cuts may be in the offing and that no faculty member or department is safe from adverse action.

We do not doubt the great challenges facing Clark Atlanta University at this time, but we are also mindful of the need to respect the rights of faculty members, even in the direst of circumstances. We would welcome your comments on the matters we have addressed and the deep concerns we have conveyed. Without significant corrective action, we candidly do not see any alternative, given our Association’s long-held principles and responsibilities, to

President Carlton E. Brown
March 6, 2009
Page Four

a formal investigation of this situation and a resulting report to the larger academic com-munity.

We look forward to receiving your response.

Sincerely,

B. Robert Kreiser
Associate Secretary

Enclosures

cc: Ms. Juanita Baranco, Chair, CAU Board of Trustees
Dr. Marcus Shute, Vice President for Research and Sponsored Programs
Dr. Jeffrey Phillips, Associate Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Dr. Shirley Williams-Kirksey, Dean, School of Arts and Sciences
Ms. Valerie Vinson, Director of Human Resources
Professor Diane Plummer, Chair, Faculty Assembly
Professor Hugh Hudson, Executive Secretary, Georgia Conference AAUP

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About jchoigt

I'm an Associate Professor in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech, and Faculty Coordinator of the Professional MS Bioinformatics degree program.
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2 Responses to AAUP’s letter to Carlton Brown, President of CAU

  1. Pingback: Does Catbert Work at Clark-Atlanta University? « Jung’s Biology Blog

  2. Pingback: Update on CAU Faculty Layoffs « Jung’s Biology Blog

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