Clark-Atlanta University two years after the mass faculty layoffs

Just over two years ago, February 6 2009, Clark-Atlanta University (CAU) laid off around 55 faculty, some with tenure, with no notice, effective the same day, with up to 4 weeks of severance pay (for 20 years of service), and no appeal. My very first blog post documented what happened to my wife, Deborah Cook, who had given nearly 20 years of service to CAU, and had an active NSF Career Advancement grant at the time ( CAU claimed that an “enrollment emergency” justified these firings without any due process and disregarding procedures outlined in the Faculty Handbook.

Along with my wife (who is of European descent), one other tenured associate professor (also of European descent) was laid off, and a full professor (of Indian descent) accepted retirement. Assistant professors without tenure (all African-American) were all retained. This mass layoff came a few months after CAU hired a new (African-American) chair for Biology. Since the “enrollment emergency” that presumably necessitated these layoffs, CAU has hired two new faculty in Biology, and CAU is currently advertising for a third new faculty position in Biology. The new faculty almost certainly have higher salaries than either my wife or the other associate professor who was laid off (they were the lowest-paid tenure-track faculty in Biology, lower-paid than newly hired assistant professors).

Did CAU experience a resurgence in student enrollments that ended the “enrollment emergency”? Not according to the  publicly available  enrollment and faculty data for CAU.

And if CAU is hiring faculty again (in addition to Biology, other departments are also advertising for tenure-track faculty), why was no attempt made to re-hire any of the faculty it laid off in February 2009? According to the CAU Faculty Handbook:

“If a ranked faculty member is to be laid off for reasons described in Section 2.8.5, no replacement for his/her position will be hired within a period of three years unless the terminated faculty member has been offered reappointment under conditions comparable to those held at the time of layoff. The faculty member must be given 30 days after written notice of the offer of reappointment within which to accept, in writing, the reappointment.”

Moreover, the the original declaration of an “enrollment emergency” appears to have been a clear fiction, a manufactured pretext for the faculty layoffs. An affidavit from Dr. Darrin Rankin, CAU’s Vice President for Enrollment Services and Student Affairs at the time, tells a disturbing story. Fall 2008 enrollment was 4100 students, and Rankin projected that spring enrollments would show a small dropoff to 4000. However, President Carlton Brown insisted that he thought spring enrollments would decline to 3400 students and necessitate large layoffs of staff and faculty. In January of 2009, with a week of enrollment still to go, spring enrollments were at 3700. In Dr. Rankin’s own words:

Rankin affidavit

I received a telephone call at 9:17 am one early morning in January from Associate Vice President Jeff Phillips, who told me that he was with President Brown and that Brown wanted to talk to me about enrollment. I waited for Brown to get on the telephone. When he got on the phone he advised that he was looking at enrollment figures and noted that the number is “growing.” Of course, I expected him to tell me how relieved he was that enrollment was much higher than he had expected or predicted. Instead of being pleased, Brown was clearly displeased and advised me that he thought everyone understood that enrollment activity would cease and close at 3400 students. He then ordered me to stop all enrollment activity immediately. I was taken aback, as this made no sense whatsoever, as all of the approximate 3700 students enrolled were “financially enrolled” and we had momentum in the right direction with enrollment. My understanding of enrollments suggest to me that limiting enrollment for a tuition driven institution would financially hurt the University. In my twenty plus years of experience in higher education, I had never heard of a deliberate curtailment of enrollment numbers at a tuition driven institution. …

…Later in January, 2009, I was instructed to create a list of staff in my department to be laid off due to a claimed “enrollment emergency”, which required deep financial cuts. In fact, as the enrollment management professional there was absolutely no enrollment emergency. (click on the image to see full deposition)

One can only conclude that Brown had his own agenda, and was not going to let any rules or procedures stand in his way. Faculty handbook, tenure, due process, faculty and employee rights, even the financial health of your own university be damned.

My question to any would-be applicants to CAU’s faculty openings: why would you want to work here?


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 Clark-Atlanta University two years after the mass faculty layoffs

  1. jchoigt says:

    I have learned since this post, from two independent sources within CAU, that the faculty in these departments knew nothing about these advertisements for faculty openings. Applications go to Human Resources, not to departmental search committees. My wife submitted an application, citing the Faculty Handbook section that states that ranked faculty laid off under these provisions are entitled to preference in hiring for a period of three years after they layoff. We’ll see what happens.

  2. Pingback: Jury finds Clark-Atlanta U. breached contract and acted in bad faith in firing tenured faculty | Jung's Biology Blog

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