There is an interesting academic controversy out of Louisiana State University where Professor Teresa Buchanan, who specializes in early childhood education and trains elementary school teachers, has been fired for creating what university administrators describe as a “hostile learning environment” that amounted to sexual harassment. However, the crux of the charges appears to be Buchanan’s use of foul language and bawdy jokes. The question is why (as recommended by the faculty committee) Buchanan was not simply reprimand or censured for such violations as opposed to fired.
Buchanan appears to have favored ““F*** no” to questions in class and using the crude slang term for vagina to suggest someone is a coward. She also made a a joke that the quality of sex gets worse the longer a relationship lasts.
Clearly some students took offense, but I have not seen such language issues result in termination. Indeed, it is not clear from the record why such language would be viewed as akin to sexual harassment. She is not first to use profanity in a classroom, something that occurs in high level classes with older students.
Buchanan says that most of the incident occurred during a divorce when she may have been a bit less guarded in her terminology. I think that the five faculty member committee found a compromise in sanctioning the language while also finding that Buchanan’s comments were not “systematically directed at any individual.” That factual finding makes the termination highly problematic in my view. Moreover, the committee noted that the chair of Buchanan’s department should have worked to resolve the issues over her behavior before the matter was simply turned over to the Human Resources Office for investigation and action.
LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander rejected the faculty committee’s recommendations and focused entirely on the committee finding that the language could be viewed as sexual harassment. The Chancellor also cited an allegation that Buchanan had violated a student’s rights under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. However that allegation was rejected as “not substantiated by testimony.” Alexander’s selective reading of the report and dismissal of key findings and recommendations is highly disturbing in my view for academic freedom and due process.