A report faulting University of Nebraska administrators for bending to political pressure in removing a graduate student and lecturer from her teaching duties relied upon "misleading and inaccurate information," the university said.
In a May 25 letter to the American Association of University Professors provided to the Journal Star on Thursday, NU said the national faculty organization failed to consider corrections offered by UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green in a hand-delivered April 17 letter.
"Although portions of Chancellor Green's letter were included as footnotes to the report, changes were not made to the text of the report and the corrections identified by UNL were not considered by the AAUP during its evaluation," wrote Stacia Palser, NU's interim vice president and general counsel.
The AAUP concluded UNL administrators violated university policies and broke widely observed norms in higher education in an attempt to end public and political backlash following Courtney Lawton's protest of the conservative student group Turning Point USA on campus last August.
By relying upon "misleading and inaccurate information," Palser said the AAUP had "unnecessarily subjected UNL to reputational damage."
An AAUP official confirmed Thursday the organization had received the letter, while a UNL spokeswoman said the administration had not received a response.
Deb Fiddelke, UNL's chief communication officer, also said the AAUP has not communicated with UNL on other matters, choosing instead to release the report through the media rather than directly to the university.
What effect NU's letter will have on deliberations by the AAUP's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure — which convenes its annual meeting to review complaints against administrators across the country in Washington, D.C., on Friday — remains to be seen.
NU requested the AAUP re-evaluate its conclusions "based on a review of the complete and correct factual situation," and incorporate Green's April 17 letter. Green said Lawton was not "summarily dismissed" when she was told she would no longer teach at UNL, as she was allowed to finish her appointment.
Green also said the AAUP's statements that UNL refused to assume the burden of proof in an administrative hearing for Lawton was false, pointing to a December letter in which UNL offered to provide Lawton a hearing before a faculty academic rights and responsibilities committee, more than a month after Lawton was told she would no longer teach at UNL.
"The association unreasonably refused to accept the use of appropriate grievance procedures suggested by the university," Green wrote. "The draft report leverages this refusal into a conclusion that Ms. Lawton was dismissed as a result of protected conduct."
Julia Schleck, a professor of English at UNL and past president of the Nebraska Conference of the AAUP, said Green's letter hints at "a possible alternative grievance procedure that might have been able to have been constructed after the fact."
"We were sorry that he couldn't simply confirm that the administration would allow her the procedure on the books," Schleck said in an email.
The AAUP has held since the 1980s that a sudden reassignment of faculty without affording that person a hearing or any other due process is tantamount to a summary dismissal.
"This is what happened here. The administration abruptly reassigned Lawton, offering no argument at all for why she is an unfit teacher (she in fact has a long record of very successful and effective teaching), and publicly announced they'd never hire her again," she said.
Fiddelke said Lawton was both a graduate student and lecturer, and it isn't unheard of for someone who is both to be reassigned, but Schleck pointed to the findings of the AAUP report, which concluded external political pressure forced administrators to reassign Lawton.
The AAUP's Committee A will weigh the interpretations Friday before making its recommendation to the delegate assembly to vote on later this month, with potentially long-lasting ramifications at the state's flagship university hanging in the balance.
If the committee finds the AAUP's report credible, UNL could be placed on the organization's "Censure List" of universities that have failed to uphold principles of free speech, academic freedom and faculty governance.
Stephen Ramsay, a UNL English professor and delegate to the AAUP assembly, said local and state members would support a resolution of censure against UNL as it would push administrators and faculty to work together on correcting the problems identified by the AAUP.
"I'll do that with a heavy heart," he said. "It's not good for business, it's not good for our careers, but we also accept the conclusions of the report as accurate."