Former LSU Education Professor Teresa Buchanan has filed an interesting federal civil rights lawsuit against the President of Louisiana State University and other school officials, claiming that the school’s sexual harassment rules (modeled on the rules crafted by the Department of Education) violated free speech and due process. I have been a critic of actions taken by the Administration against universities in forcing schools to strip students and faculty of due process rights. We previously discussed the controversy HERE.
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. 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.”
Buchanan was fired for using the occasional profanity and sexual language in her classes. The school decided that such language violated its policy prohibiting “sexual harassment” of students, which defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical behavior of a sexual nature.” That is the standard imposed by the Administration on schools under threat that failure to comply could result in heavy financial penalties and other sanctions.
Buchanan was associate professor teaching in LSU’s teacher certification program. In December 2013, she was told that she could not teach during the Spring 2014 semester because of unspecified allegations that she had made “inappropriate comments” while teaching college-aged teacher education students. Not only was she a tenured professor but, after 20 years of service, she was in the final stages of approval for a promotion to full professor. She was later charged with violating the university’s sexual harassment policy despite the fact that no student accused her of sexual harassment. While some did not like her teaching style, the university decided to label her a sexual harasser and fire her. At the same time, she was denied basic due process rights, including knowing who accused her or who filed the complaint for months after the charges were leveled against her.
Buchanan insists that she sometimes uses salty or profane language as part of her teaching either as humor or as part of role playing exercises in training teachers. She believes that it prepares teachers to interact with “children from family backgrounds that are different from their own.” Regardless of the reason, that allegation falls short of what most people would consider sexual harassment and raises serious questions of academic freedom and free speech. What makes this even more problematic is that in March 2015 the faculty committee unanimously determined that the university should not consider terminating Buchanan as opposed to asked her to modify her conduct. That seems like an obvious solution that respects academic freedom while working with academics who may be offending students with foul language.
The LSU administration ignored the faculty recommendation, and in June 2015, LSU’s Board of Supervisors fired Buchanan. Notably, the school said that this was done following “the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights’ advisements.” In response, the entire faculty senate on October 6, 2015 adopted a resolution censuring the administration for applying “confusing, dangerous, and untenable standards” to Buchanan and called on LSU to reverse its decision. The Senate specifically censored LSU President F. King Alexander (right), Human Sciences and Education Dean Damon Andrew and former Provost Stuart Bell at its monthly meeting Tuesday afternoon. The resolution (which you can read here) details violations of due process in the case.
The respected American Association of University Professors also issued a position finding that Buchanan’s rights to due process and academic freedom were violated.
The actions of the LSU Administration is a fundamental denial of due process, academic freedom, and due process. It is a disgrace for any educational institution to take such actions against an academic and another example of why Congress must intervene in the actions of the Department of Education. In my view, Alexander is unfit to remain the head of a university after shredding fundamental principles of academic freedom that serve as the foundation for our academic institutions. Of course, Alexander was willing dismiss these core values in this case but there are somethings that he is unwilling to do . . . like stop the construction of an 85 million dollar lazy river when the school is facing crippling budget shortfalls. It says a great deal about his priority as the head of a major educational institution.