According to an AAUP investigative report released today, the most plausible explanation for the dismissal of a faculty member from Nunez Community College was that it occurred as a retaliatory measure, violating his academic freedom. Professor Richard Schmitt, a nontenured associate professor of English with twenty-two years of service at the institution, had disagreed with the administration over the accuracy of an accreditation report.
Schmitt was informed during a conference call that his appointment was not to be renewed. In blatant disregard of commonly accepted standards in higher education, he was given no due process for contesting his termination, no dismissal hearing, and no reason for the decision not to renew his contract.
A little about the work of the investigating committee, on which I served as chair: AAUP investigating committees are appointed in a few select cases annually in which severe departures from widely accepted principles and standards of academic freedom, tenure, or governance have been alleged and persist despite efforts to resolve them. Investigating committees are composed of AAUP members from other institutions with no previous involvement in the matter; Professor James Klein of Del Mar College served on the Nunez investigating committee with me.
A recorded version will be available on the AAUP’s One Faculty, One Resistance site and Facebook page after the conclusion of the broadcast.
Nunez Community College, located in Chalmette, Louisiana, does not have a formal tenure system, and appoints all of its instructors on contracts of one year or less, in violation of the widely accepted academic standards codified by the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. That statement, jointly formulated by the AAUP and the American Association of Colleges and Universities, has been endorsed by more than 250 scholarly and educational groups. Because he had served well past an acceptable probationary period, AAUP standards recognize Schmitt’s appointment to be with de facto continuous tenure. Accordingly, he should be dismissed only for cause or as a result of institutional financial exigency or program closures for educational reasons.
The administration’s abrupt nonrenewal of Schmitt’s appointment, without stated cause, after more than two decades of service, constitutes a gross violation of the protections of academic due process, and in the absence of any stated cause for the administration’s actions and on the basis of the available information, must be deemed a retaliatory measure that violated his academic freedom.
At its June meeting, the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure will consider whether to recommend to the AAUP’s annual meeting that censure be imposed on the Nunez Community College administration for substantial noncompliance with AAUP-supported standards of academic freedom and tenure.
Chair of the AAUP Investigating Committee
Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee