Juan Diaz / Hilltop Views
As of last month, St. Edward’s has officially been placed on the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Censure List for, “not observing the generally recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure approved by this association (AAUP), the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and more than two hundred and fifty other professional and educational organizations which have endorsed the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” according to a write up on the AAUP website.
St. Edward’s was featured in a thorough report conducted by the AAUP in October 2018 after former tenured professors Shannan Butler and Corrine Weisgerber, along with former tenured-track professor Katie Peterson, claimed to have been unfairly terminated from the university. Hilltop Views covered the report the following month as well as the administration’s response to the allegations at the time.
All three professors are now filing lawsuits against the university in their own separate cases. Copies of their lawsuits can be viewed at the bottom of this story.
“I am hopeful that the AAUP report will lead to a new commitment to the principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure by the faculty and administration, which will allow the university to grow academically, humanistically and spiritually,” Butler said.
The AAUP’s censure list is published for the purpose of, “informing association members, the profession at large and the public that unsatisfactory conditions of academic freedom and tenure have been found to prevail at these institutions,” according to the AAUP website.
“My hope is that the St. Edward’s administration will work with faculty to get off the censure list and reclaim its mission,” Weisgerber said. “I deeply cared for my colleagues. I spent days making a quilt for a sick colleague. I visited them in the hospital and stood next to another colleague as she was dying. Yet, I have been accused of ‘bullying behavior and intimidation,'” Weisgerber said at the AAUP’s 105th annual meeting which voted to place St. Edward’s University on the AAUP’s list of censured administrations.
Names are placed on or removed from the censure list by vote during the association’s annual meeting.
“The university holds the same position in terms of rejecting the AAUP report,” university Provost Andrew Prall said. “We know that the report contains a lot of inaccurate, false information and is very one-sided from the perspective of the former faculty.”
The 2018 report highlights the alleged wrongdoings that the three professors faced during their last months at St. Edward’s. Both Butler and Weisgerber claimed to have been unfairly targeted for bullying and other aggressions that are specified in the report.
“I never imagined this could happen to me or my wife. I had received positive evaluations for the past eleven years. Served on the Institutional Review Board, was currently on the Faculty Senate, and Faculty Evaluation Committee making tenure and promotion decisions,” Butler said in a blog post from Academe Blog.
While all three former professors claim that they were wrongfully let go from the university, the circumstances surrounding Peterson’s case harbors different allegations.
Peterson claims that she was sexually harassed by a former dean and that her contract was not renewed because she repeatedly spoke out about the harassment.
“The main fact is that her contract was not renewed because of declining enrollment in the education program,” Prall said. “The non-renewal of her contract was completely unrelated to past claims and concerns she had regarding sexual harassment.”
However, Peterson’s lawyer Austin Kaplan believes otherwise.
“Our position is that that is not true,” Kaplan said. “We believe she was terminated because she made sexual harassment reports against an administrator, and that person was allowed to leave with, potentially, no penalty and that she was shown the door.”
The university refutes these claims.
“We do not comment on specific employee issues that are typically not part of the public record, but we can affirm that the University took the claims made by Dr. Peterson seriously and, in response, took appropriate actions to specifically address her claims,” Prall said.
The alleged harasser in Peterson’s case has not worked with the university since 2017.
Furthermore, Peterson and Kaplan allege that there were lower ranking individuals, people with less experience and adjunct professors that they believe were allowed to remain in their positions while Peterson’s contract was not renewed.
Prall states that the non-renewal of Peterson’s contract was a decision based solely upon national and university trends reflecting declining enrollment in teacher education and was unrelated to her claims of sexual harassment.
“She was the only full-time faculty member in the department who was not renewed at that time, and all other full-time faculty members in the department were and are tenured and/or post-probationary,” Prall said. “Therefore, the claim that ‘lower level’ probationary full-time faculty members were renewed is false, as there were no other probationary full-time faculty members in the department at that time.”
Last fall, university President George Martin established a task force on sexual harassment to explore how the university can prevent employee sexual harassment and better support those who experience it. The task force consisted of five faculty members (one from each school chosen by the dean), and five staff chosen by the university staff council. The task force shared a report with Martin at the end of the spring semester which is currently under review. In the fall, an update will be shared with the campus community outlining strategies and timelines for implementation, according to Prall.
“Despite my differences with the university’s administration, I still hold the faculty, staff, students, community and mission of St. Edward’s in the highest regard,” Butler said. “Remember that a university is not its administration but the entire community around it including faculty, staff, students and community stakeholders.”
The three professor’s lawsuits can be viewed here: