News alert: Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against LSU by former education professor

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a former LSU education professor who argued her firing for allegedly violating the school’s sexual harassment policies violated her free speech and due process rights.

The suit, filed in 2016 against top LSU administrators, quickly turned into a high-profile debate over sexual harassment and free speech rights at universities.

“We really appreciate the fact that academic freedom can’t be used as a source to harass and abuse our students and that’s what the judge saw clearly,” LSU President F. King Alexander says, “and that’s why we’re really pleased with the ruling.”

Teresa Buchanan, a former education professor, was fired in 2015 over allegations she repeatedly made sexual and profane comments to students. A faculty panel who evaluated the case found Buchanan violated the school’s sexual harassment policies and created a “hostile learning environment,” but didn’t recommend her firing. The LSU Board of Supervisors later voted to terminate her after Alexander recommended her firing.

Buchanan’s lawyer did not immediately return messages seeking comment. But the advocacy group FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), which sponsored Buchanan’s lawsuit, disagreed with the ruling.

“FIRE is deeply disappointed by the district court’s ruling and believe the case was wrongly decided. While we review all of our options, we invite you to read Teresa Buchanan’s side of the story.

Buchanan and her lawyers maintain her use of vulgar language didn’t rise to the level of sexual harassment. Several students, however, complained about the professor’s sexually tinged and profane comments.

After LSU fired Buchanan, the LSU Faculty Senate voiced displeasure with the decision, voting to censure Alexander, along with Provost Stuart Bell and Damon Andrew, dean of the College of Human Sciences and Education.

“We don’t want the administration to think that this is a vindication of all their actions regarding Dr. Buchanan,” says Kenneth McMillin, the current Faculty Senate president.

While McMillin says he thinks “alternative paths” could have been taken in Buchanan’s case, the faculty plans to use it as a learning experience, and says the relationship between the administration and faculty has improved since the issue first arose.

Check back with Daily Report PM for more details.

—Sam Karlin

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