Spalding University – November 11, 2016

Professor fired for criticizing university security

Louisville, KY

Administrators at Spalding University fired tenured Professor Erlene Grise-Owens after she accused the university of mishandling an alleged security threat on campus. A white student with a reputation for making racially charged comments brought a gun to the campus parking lot and told a fellow student that she was tired of “these people” bothering her, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Grise-Owens alleges that university administrators failed to respond adequately to the security threat. She was on sabbatical at the time of the incident, and she objected to the administration’s alleged failure to inform African-American faculty in the Department of Social Work of the threat, even though their white Department of Social Work colleagues had been told, according to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Spalding administrators accused Grise-Owens, who is herself white, of wrongly stigmatizing the student as a security threat. Additionally, the Faculty Senate in the School of Social Work accused Grise-Owens of “abuse of power, bullying, and harassment,” according to the AAUP.

Key Players

Erlene Grise-Owens was a professor of social work at Spalding for 18 years. She initially became concerned about a female student that she had come in contact with when she heard a report that the student had been seen with a firearm on campus and had made a threat supposedly directed toward faculty. The professor brought her concerns to the administration, filing a complaint that she had not been properly informed of the report due to being on sabbatical. Grise-Owens alleged that the administration had not properly informed faculty members of color of the potential threat. She was fired from her job with no appeal and no official explanation.

Tori Murden McClure is president of Spalding University. McClure accused Grise-Owens of being biased against the female student. She also pointed out that state law allowed the student to carry the firearm on campus, The Chronicle reports. The president criticized a report by the AAUP on the situation, saying that it was replete with inaccuracies and misstatements.

Further Details

The AAUP report accuses Spalding University’s administration of not taking prompt action against the student and of improperly dismissing Grise-Owens. McClure disputed the report’s findings, saying that the incident with the firearm did not take place as described, and therefore that Grise-Owens’ perpetuation of such claims disparaged the student and portrayed the university in an unfair and untrue way. However, the AAUP report claimed that an investigative committee had reviewed “a great deal of documentation” about the incident and said that it did not find anything to be false in Grise-Owens’ characterization of the event.

The report also noted that Grise-Owens’ firing was an example of a complete absence of academic due process at Spalding University, citing a lack of conversation between the former professor and her chair about the allegations she had made against the student and administration, no meeting with a dean, no formal charges being brought, no hearing before the provost, and no appeal to the president. The AAUP report said that Grise-Owens’ firing was emblematic of a lack of functional academic governance at the institution, and that Spalding had “…an inactive board, an ineffectual Faculty Senate controlled by the administration, and a president who exerts an undue amount of power.”

The report concluded that the explanation for Grise-Owens’ firing could be only her criticism of the administration, rather than any evidence of behavior that might be considered legitimate grounds for dismissal.

Outcome

Professor Grise-Owens is fired

Despite having served on the faculty for 18 years, Grise-Owens was fired from her position with no official explanation and no process for appeal.

Spalding University is censured by the AAUP

AAUP voted to censure Spalding University at its annual meeting in 2017, due to the findings of an investigative report the organization compiled.

External References:

Academic Freedom and Tenure: Spalding University, American Association of University Professors

AAUP Rebukes College for Firing Professor Who Called Armed Student a Threat, The Chronicle of Higher Education

A Gun, a Threat and a Dismissal, Inside Higher Ed

Prepared by Chris Castano ‘16

August 22, 2017