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Tennessee State University Faculty Senate Chair Arrested at Meeting with TSU President

As reported in The Tennessean and other media outlets earlier this week, Dr. Jane Davis was arrested for alleged disorderly conduct during an irregular meeting of faculty and TSU administrators.
AAUP chapter leader Prof. Phil Ganter has provided the following summary of events leading up to the current controversy, emphasizing "that it is my product, not the chapter’s. The chapter wishes to withhold its comments until more facts can be checked. I sent this to the membership and have modified the comments
based on the several responses I received, but this is my statement alone."

The complete text of Professor Ganter's report follows. We will keep you informed about the governance crisis and AAUP's national and state actions as they develop.
Recent events at TSU have given cause for concern about the state of both academic freedom and shared governance at that institution. This summer, a member of the executive committee of the Faculty Senate (which acts for the Senate during the summer months, see the Faculty Constitution, online at the TSU Faculty Senate website, for the composition of the committee), contacted senate members about the awarding of “I” grades in two freshman-level courses which had been modified to provide remediation for students identified as in need of math remediation. The courses had been modified as part of TSU’s response to changes in TBR’s A-100 guidelines. The response to the changes in the guidelines were the responsibility of a committee set up by the administration headed by John Cade, once the registrar for TSU but now a Vice-Provost.

The issue that concerned the math faculty member was the changing of “I” grades awarded in the Fall, 2011 semester before the end of the Spring, 2012 semester. The math faculty member worried that the changes had been done without the signature of the math chair, without the knowledge of the course instructors in some cases, and by a procedure clearly outside of the university policy for the removal of “I” grades, which is found in the undergraduate catalog (available online at the TSU website). In addition, he worried that the changes had affected the performance of TSU with respect to the Complete College Tennessee Act (CCTn). Specifically, he was concerned that they had increased the number of freshman who had earned 24 or more credit hours in the first two semesters of college.
As the number of grades changed (over 200) was larger than the difference between the number of students earning 24 hours in 2011 and 2012, the potential for altering TSU performance seemed real. The faculty member had written to the chancellor about this matter and had received a response that, he felt, did not take his complaint seriously. As he was a member of the senate executive committee and it was already summer, he asked the senate chair to look into the matter.
The senate chair took the complaint seriously. She brought it to the executive committee, scheduled meetings with the Provost, and attempted to gather relevant information. Eventually, she contacted the TBR, the Governor’s office, and the print media and informed them of her concerns about the changing of the grades. Subsequently, the matter was the subject of a hearing by a subcommittee of the Tennessee State Senate Committee on Higher Education. Rather than relate the complex set of events comprising this issue, I would direct interested persons to view the video of the senate hearing at the link provided:

At the time of this writing, the subcommittee has not yet published its report.
The TSU AAUP chapter was only indirectly involved with the matter up until this point. For years, the chapter had distributed its twice-yearly newsletter to all TSU faculty by simply sending it to the VPAA, then to the Provost when that position was created, who would distribute it as any other email sent to all faculty members. Then, in the fall of 2011, the administration refused to send out the
newsletter, claiming that it was not TSU business and, therefore, TSU could not use state resources to distribute it. The chapter compiled a list of faculty email addresses and distributed the newsletter without using the state’s resources. Dr. Davis, the faculty senate chair, also has no means of communicating directly with faculty without submitting the communications to the administration and, fearing censorship, asked if the AAUP chapter would distribute some communications intended to keep the TSU faculty up to date during the summer using our distribution list. This was done with the provision that the emails be explicitly credited to the senate chair and not to AAUP.
On August 16, TSU held the 2012 Fall Semester Faculty Institute; traditionally a full faculty meeting called by the university president, as required by the TSU faculty constitution (which
governs both the full faculty and the faculty senate – online at the TSU Faculty Senate website). This was not, however, the traditional meeting. The faculty senate was not part of the planning and the agenda did not have the required item for faculty senate business. At the Institute, the President called for the ouster of the faculty senate chair and the executive committee, claiming that the “I” grade issue had enraged her and had “gone outside of the TSU family”. She stated that this had harmed the unity of TSU. The only appearance by a faculty member was by the chair of the sociology, social work, and urban professions department, who read a prepared statement supporting the President. Neither Dr. Davis nor any other dissenting voice was heard. At least twice during her presentation, the University President stated, “This is not over.” in emphatic tones. I attended the meeting
and, at first, I felt that the President was referring to the ramifying consequences of “going outside of the family”. After its repition, I felt threatened by the statement. Subsequent events seem to favor the second impression.

The University President then announced that a Qualtronic poll had been set up (the link to the poll appeared on attendee’s smart phones before the Institute broke for lunch). The poll had three questions on it: one asking if the respondent wanted to retain the senate chair, one asking if they
wanted to retain the executive committee, and a third asking if they thought that the Senate should be reapportioned to account for the recent reorganization of the university. The results of the poll were later reported and 150 of over 400 faculty had responded. Only 31% wished to retain the chair, 40% wished to retain the executive committee, and 81% wanted reapportionment. I want to add a note on this last question, which received the most positive response. It might shed some light on the state of
shared governance at TSU and it is an issue I can report on directly. I was a member of the senate last year. Twice, once at the start of the fall semester and in April, the faculty senate did the reapportionment called for in the poll based on figures supplied by the administration. All faculty senators had the results of the reapportionment and all Deans had been notified in April of senate vacancies in their units. Yet, the President chose to make this an issue. When she later called a senate meeting, she did not have correct data.

On Monday, August 20, the President called a senate meeting in her conference room. However, as she did not possess the reapportionment document and was unaware of the elections of new senators, the invitation list asked some ex-senators to attend and missed some current senators. There was at least one campus security officer (TSU security officers have some metro police powers) at the
door. Shortly after the meeting began, Dr. Davis was handed a letter stating that the President would no longer recognize her as faculty senate chair. When Dr. Davis spoke to object to this letter, claiming that the there was no provision in the constitution for the President to call a senate meeting and that the President had broken the whistleblower’s law at the Faculty Institute, the security officers entered, handcuffed Dr. Davis, and booked her for disorderly conduct. She will have to appear in
Metro Davidson County court. There are conflicting reports of the events after Dr. Davis was removed. Some claim that the President then required each person present to vote on whether or not to remove Dr. Davis as chair. All reports agree that a vote occurred but the nature of the vote is not clear. At least two attendees felt threatened by the President during her poll of those in the room, while a third reported no such vote. The senate chair-elect then called a senate meeting to order and held a meeting in which she was elected chair and the executive committee was retained.

On Tuesday, the TSU AAUP chapter held a meeting. There, the chapter decided to draft a statement that clearly outlined the issues concerning AAUP core principles. It soon became clear
that key facts were in question and that these facts were needed before conclusions could be drawn about some issues. However, no member felt that the attempt to oust Dr. Davis had been done
in a manner consistent with the faculty senate constitution, a document that is official policy, that no condemnation of a faculty member is proper at a faculty meeting, that the breach of acceptable coduct on the President’s part was further exacerbated by the lack of opportunity for the faculty member to
reply, and that no faculty member should be arrested for speaking in their own defense. We have grave doubts as to the legitimacy of the meeting. The President has the constitutional power to call a senate meeting but all faculty have the right to attend all senate meetings. The meeting was not advertized to all faculty (not explicitly required but a logical necessity for a special meeting if the spirit of the constitution is to be satisfied) and Dr. Ray Richardson of the Math Department sought to attend the meeting and was excluded by the President. Thus, the meeting was out of order and any action taken during the President’s meeting was also out of order.

As the work of the TSU AAUP chapter is not completed, the specific findings about violations of academic freedom and shared governance are not yet ready and what I have tried to do here is to report as many of the facts as I can to the state conference.

Submitted by Phil Ganter,
2011-2012 President, TSU AAUP chapter
11:49 a.m., Thursday, August 23, 2012
Link to the TSU Faculty Senate web site:


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