by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Martin Center column focuses on a case in which tenure did not help a college professor escape the wrath of an angry administration.
Teresa Buchanan had been teaching in the education program at LSU’s Baton Rouge campus for nearly 20 years when, in 2015, she was fired for violating the school’s policy against sexual harassment. What had Professor Buchanan done to get the administration so upset that it went straight for the ultimate academic penalty, even over the objections of the faculty senate?
This FIRE release summarizes the case against her:
“Professor Buchanan’s transgression (if one can call it that) was to occasionally use vulgar language in class. She gave unvarnished feedback to students, which prompted a few complaints about her tone in student evaluations. And one student took personally remarks Professor Buchanan made in class that students’ significant others become increasingly less willing to make allowances for the rigors of the program as time goes on. But the idea that these isolated, blunt remarks created a ‘hostile learning environment’ is ridiculous.”
Buchanan’s troubles began with a complaint from an outsider, the superintendent of a local school system, that she had used inappropriate language during a visit to his school. Subsequently, a student also complained about her bluntness and occasional profanity in class.
In May 2014, LSU’s Office of Human Resource Management informed Buchanan that a complaint had been filed against her for violation of the university’s sexual harassment policy. No student actually accused her of sexual harassment, but the LSU administration saw that it could justify punishing Buchanan on the grounds that her language amounted to that.
In the toxic environment created by the Department of Education during the Obama administration, many schools went to absurd lengths to prove that they were zealous about attacking the supposed epidemic of sexual harassment on campus. Teresa Buchanan presented an opportunity for LSU to show its commitment to the crusade. Professor Buchanan’s colleagues tried to save her job. In March 2015, a faculty committee stated that she should not be terminated but given the opportunity to modify her language, which she admitted was sometimes blunt and profane. The LSU Board of Supervisors ignored the committee and in June went ahead with her firing.