The Maroon

Letter: Letting go of Fitzgerald is an insult to the community

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Dear Editor,

I am stunned, dismayed and angry that Loyola has chosen to reduce an insignificant amount of its current budget deficit by terminating the contract of my sociology colleague and wife, Kathleen Fitzgerald, one of the most dedicated professors and productive scholars on this campus.

Despite the enormous contributions Fitzgerald has made to the Social Justice Scholars Program, the African and African-American Studies Program, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender community and the Jesuit Social Research Institute, as well as the department of sociology over the past four years, the response she has received from the Loyola administration is that her “productivity doesn’t matter” and her conscientious service to this university is of no real importance.

Really? Is this what we teach our students, that no matter how hard they work or what their level of performance, that their productivity “doesn’t matter?” Is this the message we want to send to our newer faculty, that they will not be evaluated by the University Faculty Handbook merit criteria for teaching, research and service if their accomplishments happen to conflict with the bottom line at the wrong time?

Furthermore, is this the callous message we want to send to our married faculty and staff that have planned their lives and careers around working together at Loyola? Indeed, is this a “pro-family” policy that embodies the values of the Catholic Church?

Yet, the even larger injustice here is that many other non-tenured extraordinary faculty members with far less teaching experience, areas of expertise, research publications and years of campus and professional service than Fitzgerald will still have secure positions next year and they will be retained.

Why? Because the “right” faculty, chairs and deans politically protected them when it counted. In reality, Fitzgerald’s credentials and academic achievements are greater than many of the ordinary tenured faculty on this campus, including most of the members of the sociology department. It’s grossly unfair, unacceptable and a violation of normative professional and academic standards, not to mention any basic concept of social justice that Loyola claims to stand for.

How can the university possibly justify this kind of cronyism and allow politics and mediocrity to triumph over excellence?

I am outraged, many of our students and alumni are outraged and many of her Loyola colleagues and other faculty around the country are outraged – and they have written dozens of letters to the administration expressing their support for her work and national reputation. That Loyola would fail to retain a talented faculty member like Fitzgerald who was individually recruited, promised a multi-year contract and gave up tenure at another institution to come here and help our department bounce back after Hurricane Katrina, when we were short-handed and struggling, is not only a slap in the face to her, but constitutes an insult to our own institutional mantra to be “Men and Women for Others.” Even worse, it sets a bad precedent that Loyola will not honor its promises to faculty that change their careers to come here.

I have given 27 years of loyal service to this university, because I care about its students, mission and future. Like Fitzgerald, I too gave up tenure in another state to come here in 1987 and I’ve turned down two other faculty job offers to stay here. Yet, for the first time in my entire career, I am deeply ashamed of the misplaced priorities and lack of professional, academic and ethical values that have come to dominate the decision-making processes of this previously great university.

Loyola needs to recognize that we cannot “cut our way” to economic prosperity, nor should we balance the budget on the backs of the faculty members who had nothing to do with creating this crisis, but in fact represent the very people who can help us attract and retain the students to get us out of it.

In all my years here, I have never seen the morale on campus be as low as it is right now and everywhere I go around New Orleans, I encounter people shaking their heads and asking me, “What’s happened to Loyola? What is going on over there?” We are damaging our local, as well as national reputation in ways that we may never recover from, with the end result eventually being “death by a thousand cuts.” As the old Chinese proverb says: “If we don’t change the direction we are going, we will end up where we are headed.”

More importantly, however, is the fact that these unjust faculty terminations did not have to happen, as there were many other options this year that could have been pursued, such as a temporary one-year suspension of Loyola’s retirement contributions to faculty – which was selfishly voted down by the Senate – or a small percentage rollback of administrative and faculty salaries for those making over $100,000 a year or more – or any number of other steps that could have demonstrated Loyola’s compassion and solidarity with the faculty and staff who make this institution what it is. Instead, the university went right on throwing lavish Christmas parties and crawfish boils, providing unnecessary lunches at college assemblies and adding new faculty lines, despite an official “hiring freeze.”

Not to mention, Loyola has been continuing to pay the salary of a former faculty member of the College of Social Sciences, Wendy Hicks, who has not taught any classes or performed any services for Loyola for many years and in fact was thrown off campus by Public Safety officers for assault and firearms violations. How can these vivid illustrations of extravagant waste be viewed as acceptable when they contribute to the loss of status, income, benefits and self-worth for many loyal and deserving professors like Fitzgerald?

Clearly, such ethically-challenged actions are not only shameful and wrong, but refute the bogus claim that we can’t “afford” to keep good faculty because we “don’t have the money.” Treating poor budget decisions and false priorities as somehow “forces of nature” that can’t be overturned is absurd and represent nothing more than the reification of past mistakes.

If we can pay certain professors who continue to publically embarrass this university year after year, then we can find the funds to pay those who honor its Jesuit values everyday in their classrooms, research and university service.

Finally, why are we continuing to “plan” for such a small number of entering freshmen again for next year, rather than aggressively recruiting all the qualified students we can enroll within space limitations until we get back on our feet again? It makes no fiscal sense, but it does suggest a darker agenda that has many of us worried about the direction of this institution.

Other universities and companies in recent years have made many innovative changes and concessions to adjust to tough economic times, yet Loyola can’t seem to think outside the box about solving any of its budget problems except to fire or push out some of its most vulnerable employees.

What a sad testimony all of this is to the corporate mentality that now drives our financial decisions and squanders our students’ hard-earned tuition dollars on expenditures other than the inspirational professors they came here to learn from. Loyola students and their parents deserve much better and I hope they will demand it.

I respectfully ask Loyola to reverse its decision – which President the Rev. KevinWildes S.J., says he is considering – and grant Fitzgerald the faculty contract that she was recruited for and promised four years ago. It’s never too late to do the right thing ethically and stand up for justice and fairness.

Nothing good can come out of this present debacle but another Pathways-type, a national scandal involving more negative press, damaged public relations, angry students, disenchanted alumni, demoralized faculty and the potential end of Fitzgerald’s career as an academic sociologist.

We need to right our own ship before we try to “right-size” the university.

Sincerely,< p> Anthony E. Ladd, Ph.D.

Professor of Sociology

Department of Sociology

The Environment Program 

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Since 1923 • For a greater Loyola
Letter: Letting go of Fitzgerald is an insult to the community