I confess to mixed feelings about the recent decision of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to censure the administration of Southern University Baton Rouge for its 2011 dismissal of 19 tenured professors.
On the one hand, as the thorough investigation of the AAUP amply demonstrated, Southern University administrators botched the job. The declaration of financial exigency used to justify cuts was itself unjustified according to the university’s own rules, with faculty members more-or-less completely absent from the decision-making process. While some life-and-death emergencies may indeed require throwing out the rule book, dealing with university financial problems, however severe, is not among them.
On the other hand, I empathize with the administrators charged with making ugly decisions to terminate programs and personnel – especially after having endured multi-year cuts here at Southern Miss, as well as an agonizing two years of study and analysis purported to inform the cut process (implications of which continue to reverberate). Fortunately, neither Southern Miss nor the Mississippi public higher education system as a whole has had to endure the withering assault on its finances that Southern University and the Louisiana schools generally have. Let’s hope we never do.
Some argue that the AAUP does more harm than good in its efforts to play watchdog in this way. After all, it’s precisely the job of administrators to watch out for the best interests of the institution, is it not? Why interfere and make an already difficult and painful job still more difficult and painful? But here is an instance where the famous question attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal seems to apply perfectly – “Who watches the watchmen?” If the AAUP doesn’t keep an eye on the actions of university administrators, who will?