A state district judge sided with seven Southern University professors in a ruling that says tenure gives economic safeguards to university faculty. The seven professors--Edward Massenberg, Oscar Mitchell, Jimmy Lindsey, Henry Teller, Darnell Lassiter, Regina Patterson, and Maxwell Kees-- had argued that the university violated the property rights granted them by tenure in 1993 when their employment was cut from 12 months a year to 9 months a year. The move also cut their salaries by 25 percent. State District Judge Bob Downing agreed with the professors that their tenure protects them from that kind of loss. He ordered the university to give them back pay and restore them to their previous salaries.
Downing cited the definition of tenure in Southern’s faculty handbook as justification for his ruling. He said that definition amounts to a contract with the staff. “Tenure is a means to certain ends; specifically (1) freedom of teaching and research and extramural activities and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability,” the definition, taken from one written by the American Association of University Professors, says. “Freedom and economics security, hence, tenure, are indispensable to the success of an institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society.” Assistant Attorney General Sherry Tew said the university believes neither tenure law nor the faculty handbook prohibit the university from reducing the terms of its faculty. She said officials are contemplating an appeal.
Tew said the university never contended that the professor’s work year was being reduced because of poor job performance. Instead, financial concerns convinced the university it did not need as many on 12-month contracts, Tew said. She said officials wanted to decide each summer whether additional faculty members would be needed for summer sessions rather than providing a blanket guarantee of employment at the beginning of the year. Ed Hardin, who represents the plaintiffs, denied that the university ever claimed financial hardship was behind the changes and never gave employees a hearing on the salary reduction, and that a hearing should have accompanied such a decision. He said tenure is given to qualified faculty to protect them from political pressures that might affect their jobs.
The seven faculty members were put on nine-month contracts in 1993. Some no longer work for Southern; Kees is the lawyer for the School Board. Tew said some have retired. When those who are still employed at the university would return to full-year work won’t be settled until university officials decide whether to appeal the ruling, she said.
By William Pack, Advocate staff writer
Society for A Return to Academic Standards
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Last Updated: 7 September 1997