For your “You have got to be fucking kidding me” files, we present the story of Louisiana State University associate professor Teresa Buchanan, who was fired effective June 19 for having “sexually harassed” her students — if, that is, you buy the idea that occasionally saying “Fuck no” (and other variations on the Fuck-word) and having told a slightly off-color joke during class constitutes “sexual harassment.” No, we are not fucking kidding. In addition to those two offenses, Buchanan also, as the local paper put it, used “a slang term for vagina that implies cowardice,” which was a nice way to pussy out on saying what she actually said. Teresa Buchanan was a tenured professor with 20 years experience teaching early childhood education and training elementary school teachers at LSU. And yes, you bet your sweet ass she’s planning to sue.
Despite a recommendation by a faculty committee which decided — after an 11-hour dismissal review hearing in March — that she merely be given a letter of censure and made to promise to never say no swears ever again, Buchanan was nonethelesss shitcanned by LSU president and chancellor F. King Alexander — whose name we are not f. king making up.
While the committee found that her adult language and humor violated university policies that protect students and employees from sexual harassment, it found no evidence Buchanan’s comments were “systematically directed at any individual.”
Those must have been some blistering f-bombs she used, all right. LSU Faculty Senate president Kevin Cope said he found Buchanan’s dismissal “disturbing,” and didn’t buy the load of bullshit being trotted out by the administration:
Cope cast doubt on whether Buchanan violated any of the university’s policies. He noted the university’s sexual harassment policies require behavior that is not only sexual in nature, but that it must clearly hurt the school performance of students and employees.
“Personally, this is nothing that I would consider sexual harassment at all,” Cope said.
He added that if using profanity is grounds for dismissal, two-thirds of college administrators should be fired.
And let’s not even get started on the sportsball coaching staffs.
At Slate, education columnist Rebecca Schuman has a pretty good defense of the place of profanity in the classroom, noting that she has herself “used the word pussy to denote cowardice, something I have also done in class, albeit in reference to Faust, who 100 percent is one.” But frankly, the more you look at Buchanan’s case, the less it looks like Political Correctness run amok, or precious snowflake students fainting at the sound of a few F-bombs, and the more it looks like the Most Dangerous Game of all: academic politics.
Judging by the reporting in the Baton Rouge Advocate, it appears that Buchanan’s “salty language” (a phrase we rather like for its old-fashioned primness) was just the topping on the shitcake that LSU handed her — there were Other Forces at play, especially involving some personality conflicts between Buchanan and at least one public school superintendent whose district was part of a teacher training program Buchanan ran. The superintendent says that he heard complaints from some of his teachers about Buchanan, while Buchanan told the Advocate that despite the superintendent’s repeated requests for student teachers,
she’d resisted because it’s a relatively low performing district, and her students teachers need to see standout teaching so they know what to do themselves. She said the program got off to a rocky start there, but she denied any unprofessional behavior.
The story started to make national news, including a protest of Buchanan’s firing by the American Association of University Professors, which has censured LSU since 2012 for its crappy treatment of faculty and restrictions on academic freedom.
In response to all the negative press, on Wednesday, LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard, who had previously declined comment because it was a personnel matter and because of the possible litigation, decided that it was time to start publicly explaining just what a monster Buchanan is. In a statement, Ballard claimed that it wasn’t just the Bad Words that got Buchanan fired, but also a “documented evidence of a history of inappropriate behavior that included verbal abuse, intimidation and harassment of our students.” Funny, you’d think the school might have mentioned that instead of the pretended sexual harassment. Not that the statement appears to have included any specifics — Ballard simply insisted that “Dr. Buchanan created a consistently hostile and abusive environment in the classroom,” a claim that Buchanan denies.
“The documented evidence I’ve seen is primarily limited to student evaluations,” Buchanan said Wednesday. “The things they refer to were taken out of context and inaccurate. This certainly is an issue of academic freedom and free speech.
“Not every student liked me, and my methods were somewhat unorthodox, but every student learned,” she added.
Now, if she really was such a monstrous bully, then why is it that LSU has only decided to say that was the real reason for her firing now, instead of claiming that she had to go because she said “fuck” a few times in front of 18- to 25-year old education majors?
And relying on student evaluations? Every university teacher who’s ever given a well-deserved “D” has to shudder at the thought of their job hanging mostly on those end-of-semester revenge sheets. (Yr Dok Zoom’s own personal favorites from grad school: the student who said “It’s obvious you hated me all semester and never gave me a chance” — I literally had no idea who the student was who thought I had a vendetta against him or her — and another that simply said, “Thinks he’s funny but he’s not.” Yr Wonkette has no comment on this claim.)
The really awful thing about all this? Most stories and blog posts about Buchanan’s firing are going to so with the original claim that she was fired for saying “fuck” a few times too often, and it’ll be treated as one more instance of Precious Snowflakes Run Amok. And we suppose that’s sufficient, if it convinces prospective academics to stay away from the place, but it doesn’t do a hell of a lot to fix what looks like an administration full of petty fuckheads.