A national organization that represents university professors and other academics said this week it would launch a formal investigation into Canisius College.
In an email to President John J. Hurley, the national office of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) said it was concerned about the way in which Canisius dismissed around two dozen faculty members in July, and cut or eliminated nine academic programs.
The AAUP national office, based in Washington, D.C., emailed President Hurley on Monday. According to the email, AAUP Director Julie Schmid made the decision to launch the investigation after reviewing information about this summer’s layoffs.
The advocacy group said it will establish a committee to investigate the layoffs and report back to its Committee on College and University Guidance. The committee will look for violations of academic freedom and tenure in accordance with recommended AAUP standards.
The association’s report cannot shut down the college, but the investigation results will be made publically available and could be a black mark on Canisius’ reputation.
“After conferring with members of the Association’s senior professional staff, our executive director has determined that this case raises significant issues of faculty governance as well as of academic freedom and tenure,” Gregory Scholtz, the AAUP’s director of academic freedom, tenure and governance, wrote in the letter.
“In situations of this kind, which present developments of basic concern to the academic community, our experience has indicated that it is desirable, in fairness to the institution’s administration, to the affected faculty members, and to the institution as a whole, to establish an ad hoc committee composed of persons who have had no previous involvement with the particular matter to conduct its own full inquiry without prejudgment of any kind.”
The administration was notified via another letter on Aug. 6 that an investigation was being considered unless an “appropriate resolution” was reached between it and the faculty.
This letter, again authored by Scholtz, calls the layoffs and program cuts “illegitimate and sharply at odds with widely accepted norms of academic governance, tenure and freedom.”
“We are aware of the AAUP inquiry and received a letter from them this week. At this point, we are awaiting further information from them as to the exact process. At this point, there’s nothing more to comment on,” President Hurley said via email on Thursday.
The AAUP is critical of the cuts because Canisius did not follow regulations set forth in the faculty handbook, something that President Hurley told The Griffin earlier this month was done out of a sense of fiscal urgency.
“We saw a very sharp drop in revenue which created a potential budget deficit that, quite frankly, the college couldn’t afford to run and still remain viable. So, that was driving the planning was a sense of urgency about that,” he said earlier this month.
The faculty handbook is not binding, President Hurley said, and the Board of Trustees does have the power to make decisions outside of it.
“Now, I’m not saying we threw [the handbook] out, there was consultation with the faculty here. We have in the academic program board guidelines and a recognition that we are entitled to eliminate programs and the Board ultimately has a final say in that,” he said.
“The Faculty Handbook is our contract. It is binding,” said Dr. Tanya Loughead, president of the Canisius chapter of the AAUP. “That is the position of the AAUP and that is the position of the Handbook itself, which, in fact, has been accepted by the trustees and the administration.”
Dr. Loughead said the following is direct from the handbook: “The Faculty Handbook is part of the contract of full-time faculty of Canisius College. It is an official document of the College.”
The AAUP investigation will include interviews, a study of college documents, a review of actions of individuals and committees, and statements from faculty, the administration and trustees.
Interviews are scheduled to begin soon, the spokesperson said.
The AAUP has investigated other colleges and universities before for similar reasons, with the reports published to the AAUP’s website and in Academe, the association’s magazine.
Some schools previously investigated by the association include Greenville University in Greenville, Ill., for terminating a tenured professor due to a “budgetary shortfall,” and St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, for firing two tenured professors with no due process.