A report of an AAUP investigation released recently concludes that the administration of Spalding University in Kentucky summarily dismissed Erlene Grise-Owens, a long-serving professor of social work, in blatant violation of her academic freedom and normative standards of academic governance and due process.
The report finds that Spalding’s president and provost abruptly terminated Professor Grise-Owens’s tenured appointment because she criticized the administration’s handling of an incident involving a student who brought a gun to a campus parking lot, showed it to a fellow student, and said, “I’m tired of these people f–king with me.” When the student who was shown the gun reported the incident to institutional authorities, the school’s chair immediately alerted social work faculty about the incident—except the school’s three faculty members of color, one of whom was scheduled to have the student in class the next day. The student had a history of making racially charged comments in class.
Professor Grise-Owens and two of the three faculty members filed formal complaints about the administration’s failure to notify the faculty members of color about the incident. After the administration dismissed their complaint as groundless, they brought it in person to the faculty senate. The same day as their meeting with the Senate, Professor Grise-Owens received notice of dismissal at her home by certified mail.
Following the administration’s action, the other two faculty members resigned in protest. One stated, “I cannot be part of such a system, and I will not be part of a system that continuously models disparity between principles and actions and in so doing puts my life and the lives of my students in harm’s way.” The investigating committee found that Professor Grise-Owens was dismissed for “speaking out against institutional policies and practices she deemed inadequate” and, as one faculty member put it, for “being connected to the marginalized voices” of faculty of color.
The AAUP conducts investigations in a few select cases, in which faculty members allege that severe departures from widely accepted academic standards have occurred and persist despite efforts to achieve an appropriate resolution.
Chair of the Investigating Committee