Teresa Buchanan — a highly decorated and tenured associate professor of education at Louisiana State University (LSU) — was fired from her teaching position earlier this month for the alleged, occasional use of profanity and discussing issues related to sexuality in the classroom.
In December 2013, Buchanan was informed that a student had made allegations against her for inappropriate teaching conduct that fostered a hostile classroom environment.
As a result, LSU Dean of Human Sciences and Education, Damon Andrew, suspended from her teaching position until a faculty committee and the Board of Supervisor separately tried her case.
According to Buchanan, no one gave her further details about these allegations until her initial trial 18 months later with the faculty committee, which prevented her from attempting to clarify possible misinterpretations with the accusing student.
“[Since the suspension,] my dean would not meet with me and told my chair[person] not to speak with me,” Buchanan told The Daily Reveille on Wednesday.
At her initial hearing with a committee of five faulty members in March, the members were only able to list a couple examples of the professor’s alleged transgressions — which included: saying “f*** no” in front of students and joking that sex with a partner continues to get worse the longer the relationship lasts.
“This behavior is completely unacceptable,” Andrew wrote to Buchanan when suspending her employment. “And [it] must cease.”
Buchanan was not give the opportunity to refute these claims until her trial. And from her vantage point, her comments — which are all based on hearsay — were taken out of context to allow the university to micromanage its professors.
The decorated educator explained that in the beginning of the academic year, some of her female students were chatting about how their boyfriends had helped them move into their dorms. In response, Buchanan advised them, in a joking manner, to not be reliant upon their boyfriends for everything.
“In the beginning of a relationship, while the sex is good, your partner will do anything he can to help you,” Buchanan recalled telling them. “After two or three years, don’t count on him coming out.”
But Buchanan further explained that this type of humor was her method of connecting with her students in order to help them comprehend the substantial demands that come with the teaching profession.
Additionally, Buchanan stated that using slight profanity every once in a while falls under her exercise of free speech. And while it may be viewed as “inappropriate” at times, it certainly is not “sexual harassment,” nor is it grounds for termination.
“The occasional use of profanity is not sexual harassment,” Buchanan told The Advocate on Tuesday. “Nor is the occasional frank discussion of issues related to sexuality, particularly when done in the context of teaching specific issues related to sexuality.”
And Buchanan is not alone.
All five faculty members on the initial hearing committee confirmed that the student’s allegations were not substantiated and agreed that maybe Buchanan should be reprimanded, but not terminated.
The faculty also agreed that Buchanan’s use of adult language and humor may be found in violation of an LSU policy that protects its students from “sexual harassment.”
However, no evidence was ever found that her commentary was “systematically directed at any individual.”
The faculty committee gave their consensus recommendation to the LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander, suggesting he allow her to keep her job, but insist in the future she refrain from using such language in the classroom.
Despite the faculty recommendation, however, Buchanan was fired on June 19 by Alexander and the LSU Board of Supervisors.
The president of LSU’s Faculty Senate Kevin Cope — one of the faculty members who submitted the recommendation to the Board — agreed that Buchanan’s termination was troubling, but was indicative of the politics that transpire among the school leadership.
“Personally, this is nothing that I would consider sexual harassment at all,” Cope said. “[But] once it goes to the president, there is no constraint on what the president can do.”
In terminating Buchanan, Alexander cited the accusation that she had infringed upon a student’s rights under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
However, the faculty committee had completely rejected that allegation because it was “not substantiated by testimony.”
Teresa Buchanan was hired in 1995 and, since then, she told the Board, has received nothing but positive performance reviews. Additionally, she founded a nationally-recognized and highly selective teacher training program called the PK-3 Teacher Education Program.
Buchanan is also highly decorated as an associate professor of education at the southern university — having been awarded multiple times by the Odgen Honors College and by the LSU Tiger Athletic Foundation.
“I love my job,” Buchanan told the LSU Board of Supervisors while choking back her tears. “And I’m very good at it.”
Buchanan hypothesizes that these allegations may have stemmed from a jealous and vengeful student who wasn’t admitted into the PK-3 Teacher Education Program — saying that the competitiveness of this training program is similar to the intensity of a medical school internship.
However, regardless of which student made the allegations and why, Buchanan stands by her claim that in the process of her trial and termination, LSU violated her rights to freedom of speech in the classroom and due process throughout her trial.
Buchanan confirmed to The Daily Reveille that she “absolutely intends to…sue” LSU for denying her those basic constitutional rights.
The Louisiana chapter of the American Association of University Professors — which is now in its third case against LSU for the way they treat their faculty — has started a fund for Buchanan’s legal defense counsel who cannot afford the counsel on her own.
“I want to make sure you know exactly what you are about to do,” Buchanan told the Board shortly before being fired. “And to whom you are doing it.”