GWU Slammed by AAUP For Violating Tenure During Pandemic; A Senior Tenured Professor Was Suspended Without “Cause” or a Hearing
GWU Slammed For Violating Tenure During Pandemic
WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 9, 2020) - The American Association of University Professors [AAUP] has slammed the George Washington University [GWU] for violating tenure during the pandemic by suspending without pay a tenured law professor without any "cause" (as required by its faculty code), and without any hearing to determine if there was any valid cause.
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Public interest law professor John Banzhaf says that he may be a canary in a coal mine, and a harbinger of what GWU and other universities might try to do in order to slash costs or to rid themselves of outspoken professors.
This could be particularly serious because many professors at GWU are at risk for publicly calling for the censure if not dismissal of its president and provost, and have strongly condemned many of their actions, some of which were rolled back as a result of these widespread professorial complaints.
The AAUP, along with another major independent higher education organization, has demanded Professor Banzhaf's reinstatement, and the Department of Justice, the Office of Human Rights, the American Bar Association (which regulates law schools), and other bodies are mulling formal complaints against the university.
Involuntary Unpaid Leave
The AAUP has warned GWU that "A faculty member placed on involuntary unpaid leave has been suspended from his or her primary responsibilities. The AAUP regards a suspension with or without pay as a sanction second in severity only to dismissal" and "requires a university to first demonstrate adequate cause for doing so in an adjudicative proceeding before an elected faculty body. . . we urge that Professor Banzhaf either be reinstated to his teaching responsibilities immediately or afforded a procedure the basic elements of which are consistent with the above-cited standards."
This determination by the AAUP is particularly important because the standards of the two independent bodies which accredit or regulate law schools in the U.S. - the American Bar Association [ABA] and the Association of American Law Schools [AALS] - require adherence to the standards regarding tenure of the AAUP.
In its similar letter of warning to GWU, the influential Foundation for Individual Rights in Education [FIRE] wrote GWU's action amounts to "an end-run around the protections of tenure."
"FIRE echoes the AAUP’s concern about the apparent deficiency in the procedural path taken by the university’s administration . . the Faculty Code mandates that he be afforded substantial procedural protections, including a written complaint and a hearing before a committee. . . Placing a faculty member on an involuntary and unpaid leave of absence, without adequate procedural safeguards to ensure that the university’s action is appropriate, will create an end-run around the protections of tenure. . . FIRE calls on GWU to explain the basis for Banzhaf’s leave of absence and the provision of the Faculty Code authorizing that leave. If his leave of absence is not expressly justified by the Faculty Code, FIRE calls on GWU to rescind Banzhaf’s leave and restore any payments lost as a result of the leave."
Suspending a tenured faculty member is very rare if not virtually unprecedented, at least in the absence of a declaration of financial exigency or a slashing of course offerings, because of the huge barriers created by tenure. Thus many universities have declined - or failed - to rid themselves of even faculty members who have engaged in egregious actions.
No Valid Cause
Here, says Banzhaf, GWU has never even articulated a valid "cause" for his suspension without pay, much less held a hearing at which it would have the burden of proving it.
The closest they came, in a decision related to another matter, is noting that he indicated that there might be some problems with teaching his class on line as the Law School required, although he repeatedly advised GWU that he would be willing to teach his assigned course despite these possible problems.
Banzhaf also notes that he was outspoken in criticizing GWU's announced plans to hold in-person classes in the Fall despite the enormous risks of COVID-19, especially to the many professors who are over 65 and/or have medical conditions which make them at very high risk of death, disability, or hospitalization.
So far the Law School has refused to comment, even to respond to FIRE's demand for some explanation, citing privacy, even though Professor Banzhaf has signed a waiver permitting the University to discuss his situation.
Unlike many tenure he said-she said situations where there are factual issues as to what was said or done, here the issues are clear since everything relevant occurred on line in an exchange of emails.
Banzhaf said that he is hoping to resolve this situation amicably, and appreciates all of the support he is receiving.