Louisiana State University – June 18, 2015

Professor fired for vulgar comments made in class

Baton Rouge, LA

Louisiana State University (LSU) terminated Education Professor Teresa Buchanan in 2015, despite recommendations from faculty to the contrary, for a series of comments she had made that the university deemed to be sexual harassment. Buchanan had been placed on leave a year earlier after LSU alleged that her performance review was fraught with complaints from the young teachers she was tasked with training. LSU expressed concern over three particular complaints: that Buchanan frequently told her students, “fuck no”; that she implied cowardice through the use of the term “pussy”; and that she lamented that the quality of one’s sex life degraded over the course of a relationship. Buchanan acknowledged her teaching methods were unconventional, but argued that they successfully kept her students interested in the content of her courses.

Key Players

Dr. Teresa Buchanan is a former professor of education at Louisiana State University. She was hired as an assistant professor in 1995 and awarded tenure six years later, Inside Higher Ed reports. During her two decades at the university, she published two dozen peer-reviewed articles and created an innovative teacher education program that included immersion in local elementary schools. She was eligible for promotion to full professor in 2013, when LSU became concerned by unsatisfactory performance reviews. She was taken out of the classroom for a year before her ultimate termination. Although Buchanan does not regret her “tough-love” teaching methods or her profanity, she does admit that going through a divorce at the time could have made her “a bit looser with her language,” reported The Advocate. According to her LinkedIn profile, Buchanan is currently seeking a position in educational research.

Further Details

LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander decided to terminate Teresa Buchanan in 2015, more than a year after allegations about her language in the classroom raised concerns in the administration. In a statement following the termination, LSU noted that Buchanan had a “history of inappropriate behavior that included verbal abuse, intimidation and harassment of our students.” The university claimed that several elementary schools associated with the training program of Buchanan’s design had asked her not to set foot on school property, due to the impact her language could have on young children. The parish school superintendent said Buchanan made inappropriate comments about teachers, according to the Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate. The chancellor also alleged that her language had violated one student’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, although Buchanan’s legal counsel says this allegation has never been substantiated.

Buchanan admits her language and humor can be profane, but she insists it is on par with that of other professors across the country. She says, for example, that her comment that young female teachers cannot always rely on their boyfriends to help set up their classrooms each year was misconstrued as one about sexual longevity. It is a valid assumption, Buchanan noted to The Advocate, that a boyfriend’s willingness to help might be correlated with sexual satisfaction.

LSU pulled Buchanan out of the classroom shortly after the complaints surfaced in 2013, and for more than a year, she conducted salaried research at the university. Meanwhile, Buchanan told the Huffington Post that the school’s Human Resources Department performed an investigation that did not involve interviewing her students or fellow professors. The investigation culminated in a nearly twelve-hour dismissal review by a committee of five faculty members.

According to The Advocate, the committee members recommended that Buchanan keep her job. They found no evidence that her comments were directed at any one individual, and they suggested that she be censured under an agreement to soften her language. The committee also criticized the university for not arranging a possible resolution with Buchanan’s department chair, and instead going straight to a Human Resources investigation.

Chancellor Alexander disregarded the committee’s recommendation, an action that elicited discontent from LSU faculty. The faculty senate voted unanimously for a resolution to censure the LSU administration for its actions and request a reversal of Buchanan’s termination. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) later came to Buchanan’s defense, having finally decided to take LSU off a three-year censure for other alleged infringements of academic freedom that occurred shortly before her termination.

“Good teaching often bothers students. Good teaching often upsets people. That’s part of the cognitive maturation process,” Buchanan argued in the Huffington Post. LSU’s lawyers, however, characterize her behavior as “aggressive and bullying.” The school accuses Buchanan of hiding “behind the shield of academic freedom while creating a hostile learning environment,” according to The Advocate.

Outcome

Buchanan Sues LSU

When Buchanan was terminated, LSU offered her a retirement package in exchange for the promise that she would not litigate. According to AAUP, Buchanan rejected the deal.

In early 2016, The Advocate reported that Buchanan partnered with AAUP to sue LSU for monetary damages and for the opportunity to reclaim her job. The suit argued that the administration violated her rights to Free Speech and due process. It claimed that university policy conflates sexual speech with sexual harassment, using evidence from AAUP that suggests the government’s definition of sexual harassment is ill-devised. In a 2013 letter to federal officials, AAUP objected to the government’s “broader definition of sexual harassment.” The definition was revised in a 2013 settlement between the University of Montana and the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. This broader definition deems sexual harassment to be “any unwelcome conduct of sexual nature,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In January 2018, a federal judge in the Middle District of Louisiana dismissed the lawsuit.

External References

Fired for Being Profane, Inside Higher Ed

LSU professor fired for using salty language in classroom claims she’s ‘witch hunt’ victim, plans suit, The Advocate

Professor Says She Was Fired Unconstitutionally For Cursing, The Huffington Post

LSU Faculty Senate Resolution on Buchanan’s Termination

Judge Dismisses Suit of LSU Professor, Chronicle of Higher Ed

Prepared by Adelina Lancianese ‘17

Uploaded August 22, 2017

Updated January 22, 2018