Professors' association moves to help fired LSU instructor

By Sean Fowler | Apr 15, 2016

BATON ROUGE - While some allegations of sexual harassment by college professors can be complicated cases that must be examined carefully, there's a case at Louisiana State University that some believe isn't so complicated.

"Professor Buchanan should be reinstated," Hans-Joerg Tiede, an associate secretary with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), told the Louisiana Record.

Buchanan, whose speciality is early childhood education and was training elementary school teachers, was fired in January after allegedly using curse words and sexually themed jokes that created a "hostile learning environment."  She filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court almost immediately upon her termination, which the school has filed to have dismissed. Buchanan admitted in her suit that she used so-called "salty language," but said it was part of her teaching style and not directed at any students. It's this reasoning that has led the AAUP to assist her in this case.

"First, on procedural grounds, a faculty committee found unanimously that she should not be dismissed and that some of the charges against her were not substantiated," Tiede said. "On more substantive grounds, the charges against her that were substantiated, namely the use of profanities, can hardly be considered sufficient for dismissal by any reasonable standard."

The case is reflective of a troubled landscape in collegiate teaching, where the requirements of Title IX make schools investigate every complaint, and some believe it has caused the schools to become overly careful and restrictive regarding those complaints.

"It seems to relate generally to the current overuse of Title IX complaints in cases that should be considered protected by academic freedom," Tiede said. "While institutions should investigate complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and respond appropriately, administrative responses to complaints have at times been overzealous and lacking in appreciation of principles of academic freedom."

Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, is perhaps better known for requiring universities to provide equal amounts of athletic scholarships to both male and female students. Another provision within it, however, requires schools to investigate any allegations of sexual harassment or abuse.

The AAUP is providing direct assistance to Buchanan, approving a grant from its Academic Freedom Fund to assist her with litigation costs. But more generally, Tiede said the organization also responds in another way whenever they encounter cases like this, hoping to create more general change.

"We communicate with administrators when it appears their actions have fallen short of the procedural safeguards for academic freedom that the AAUP advocates," he said.

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Organizations in this Story

American Association of University Professors Louisiana State University

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