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AAUP criticizes UTMB for post-Ike layoffs


The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston and the University of Texas System (UTS) violated established and widely accepted guidelines on academic freedom and tenure when it laid off more than 2,400 faculty and staff in the wake of 2008’s Hurricane Ike, according to a report released today by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

More than 120 faculty members, 43 of whom were tenured or tenure-track, fell under the axe in late 2008, after Ike ripped through UTMB’s island campus, visiting destruction on hospitals, labs, and teaching facilities. Administrators at the UTS declared financial exigency, claiming that the hurricane damage put the facility in such dire economic straits that severe cuts to the faculty were necessary for it to remain solvent.

Critics have claimed that the declaration of financial exigency and decisions about who and where to cut the faculty were made behind closed doors with no broad-scale faculty input.

UTMB administrators may have been justified in declaring financial exigency when the hurricane hit, the AAUP’s Associate General Secretary Jordan Kurland told The Scientist. “But in a remarkably short time, monies were found, facilities were put back into operation, the worst case scenario never really materialized, and by the end of the winter, they were already hiring new people.”

Kurland, who supervised the staffing of the investigative committee that compiled the report, stressed this last point — the UTMB’s hiring of new faculty members mere months after firing others — as a key disappointment to the AAUP. “Those in charge took advantage of the ‘flexibility’ that had come from the initial lay-offs to move as soon as it was clear to do so to engage new people who would best meet current desires at the medical branch.”

The AAUP report is here. The reason this is a big deal is because the AAUP is considering adding UTMB to its censure list, which as a brief Chron story notes would make it a lot harder for UTMB to hire top faculty in the future. There will be a committee meeting before the AAUP’s annual meeting in June to formalize a statement about this. UT says it has proposed some revisions to its process that may address the AAUP’s concerns. We’ll see what happens.

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