By Meghan Keenan at Red Alert Politics
A professor at Louisiana State University was recently fired after a 20-year career at the university for using profanity and sexual humor in the classroom.
Teresa Buchanan, a tenured professor of elementary education, was officially terminated on June 19 after a lengthy investigation by the university.
Buchanan has said she is the victim of a “witch hunt,” and is planning to fight back.
On December 20, 2013, Professor Buchanan received a memo from the Dean of the College of Human Sciences and Education, stating that she had been removed from teaching duties pending an investigation of complaints by a student and by a school district superintendent.
Buchanan was not told why she was being investigated until May 26, when she received another memo informing her that she had been found guilty of violating LSU’s sexual harassment policy, as well as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“The occasional use of profanity is not sexual harassment,” Buchanan told The Advocate. “Nor is the occasional frank discussion of issues related to sexuality, particularly when done in the context of teaching specific issues related to sexuality.”
A panel of faculty members held a dismissal review hearing for Buchanan in March and agreed that she had violated the university’s sexual harassment policy by using profanity, poorly worded jokes and occasionally sexually explicit jokes, but found no evidence that the behavior was “systematically directed at any individual.” Faculty members also found that the ADA violation charge was not substantiated by testimony. The panel suggested that Buchanan be reprimanded for her behavior, but that there was not cause for her dismissal.
LSU President F. King Alexander ignored the recommendations of the faculty committee and urged the LSU Board of Supervisors to fire Professor Buchanan.
Peter Bonilla from the Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE) said that the university’s treatment of Buchanan is nothing new.
“FIRE has seen multiple faculty members in recent years investigated, suspended from teaching, removed from campus, and even fired from their positions over similar complaints to those against Buchanan at LSU,” Bonilla told Reason. “Their universities have regularly shown remarkable indifference to their academic freedom rights even when their speech at issue was demonstrably germane to their teaching or were themselves direct applications of the assigned course materials.”
In a letter sent to President Alexander on Tuesday, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) said Buchanan’s language is “run-of-the-mill these days for much of the academic community” and is “protected conduct under principles of academic freedom.”
LSU defended its decision to terminate Buchanan, in a statement put out on Wednesday.
“Teresa Buchanan was not terminated due to isolated incidents,” wrote LSU Media Relations Director Ernie Ballard. “LSU has documented evidence of a history of inappropriate behavior that included verbal abuse, intimidation and harassment of our students.”
Buchanan is planning to sue the university for violating her rights to free speech and due process.
LSU has already been censured by the AAUP for violating the academic freedom rights of its faculty.