Saturday, July 20, 2024

Tenured LSU Shreveport professor fired for ‘disruptive behavior’

by BIZ Magazine

PIPER HUTCHINSON – Louisiana Illuminator

A tenured LSU Shreveport professor has been terminated for what system President William Tate described as “disruptive behavior,” but what the professor calls free speech.

Brian Salvatore, a tenured chemistry professor and longtime LSU Shreveport Faculty Senate member, was dismissed from his position effective Friday. In April, a panel of his colleagues recommended his dismissal based on 13 allegations university administrators levied against him. The charges center on Salvatore’s speech.

Salvatore said his ouster involves his reminders to the Faculty Senate when they violate the state’s public meetings law.

“My decision is not directed to your exercise of free speech,” Tate wrote to Salvatore in a termination notice. “Instead, it is based on your own disruptive behavior on the LSUS campus and the reported impact on faculty, staff, administration, and, most importantly, students.” Read the full letter here.

At the hearing in April, LSU Shreveport Provost Helen Taylor said Salvatore’s speech affected the efficiency of the university by disrupting Faculty Senate meetings.

“This isn’t about freedom of speech. This is about the disruption of shared governance,” Taylor said at the hearing. She added that when shared governance breaks down, the administration doesn’t have the means to run the university.

The shared governance model of higher education delegates certain powers, primarily those dealing with academics, to faculty. Most universities divulge little authority to faculty senates.

Despite arguments that Salvatore disruption was related to faculty governance, most of the accusations against him were unrelated to his role as a faculty senator, something LSU Shreveport economics professor Timothy Shaughnessy, chair of the hearing committee, pointed out during the April meeting. Instead, they were about statements Salvatore contends are protected speech that the administration found objectionable.

Salvatore is an outspoken environmental advocate. Much of his advocacy has centered on open-air burn pits at the Clean Harbors waste disposal facility in Colfax. Salvatore argued this advocacy has put him crosswise with the administration, and he has filed a federal free speech lawsuit against the university.

At other times, Salvatore spoke out about university policies he believed to conflict with system policy or state law, which is why he said he believes it’s ironic his termination letter cites conflicting policies.

Tate’s letter, which was obtained by the Illuminator from Salvatore, said he is being dismissed under an LSU Shreveport-specific policy as well as an LSU System permanent memorandum, which applies to all of its campuses.

The LSU Shreveport policy lays out a different standard for faculty due process than the LSU System policy, requiring the LSU Board of Supervisors to weigh in on the dismissal of a tenured faculty member. But the LSU System policy gives final authority to its president, so Tate had final say on Salvatore’s dismissal, rather than the board.

When reached for comment about what policy is used in conflicts such as this, LSU spokesperson Todd Woodward said a permanent memorandum supersedes campus-specific rules.

Such conflicting policies cause confusion, said LSU Professor Kevin Cope, a longtime officer for the Louisiana conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a professional organization dedicated to academic freedom on university campuses.

“It’s complicated, difficult — and to use less fancy language — screwed up,” Cope said in an interview.

Cope, who served as LSU Faculty Senate president for approximately 10 years, said it would be better to have the board of supervisors weigh in on the dismissal of a tenured faculty member.

“This is one of the most serious actions in academia … it’s the entire remaining academic life of a person that needs a little bit more scrutiny than say, just the campus chancellor and then the system president,” Cope said.

Across the nation, shared governance — the relationship between a faculty body, an administration and a management board — has been under attack by conservatives who want to consolidate power in administrators or politically connected boards. Advocates for shared governance believe the more checks and balances a university has, the better.

Cope argued even if any of the charges against Salvatore are true, they are not enough to justify firing a tenured professor. Cope noted the LSU System is under two AAUP censures, which are given to universities in violation of principles of academic freedom or tenure.

Firing Salvatore puts the system at risk of being issued a third censure, Cope said, which could potentially harm the university’s ability to attract faculty. No other university system has been censured for a third time, he said.

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