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Longtime LSU Shreveport professor Brian Salvatore fights to retain job

As it appeared in The Shreveport-Bossier City Advocate

A tenured LSUS professor known for his high community profile is fighting for his job. Brian Salvatore, a professor of chemistry and physics and the former chair of the department, is at the center of a termination process that could end with him losing the job he has held at the university for 21 years.

Salvatore’s attorney, J. Arthur Smith III of the Smith Law Firm in Baton Rouge, sent out press releases urging Salvatore’s supporters and the media to attend the termination hearing “public forum,” held on Monday, April 8, stating that the university seeks to terminate Salvatore because it “apparently disagrees with the content of his free speech on several matters. Salvatore vigorously contests this proposed termination.”

Erin Smith, LSUS’ Director of Media and Public Relations told The Shreveport-Bossier City Advocate that this is the first hearing that she is aware of that has been open to anyone other than attorneys and staff. “Salvatore requested it be open to the public and our general counsel said OK,” Smith said. She also said the allegations against Salvatore are all “policy-related.”

Despite being a public forum, when The Shreveport-Bossier City Advocate tried to enter the hearing in the Webster Room at the LSUS University Center, we were denied entry. LSUS employees told us the “chairs were filled,” that no more could be set up, and standing was not allowed. Looking into the room, we were able to count roughly 14 audience members. Another part of the room was comprised of tables set up in a square configuration for the sides taking part in the hearing.

At 8 a.m., 10 people who had arrived for the hearing, some former students of Salvatore, and others who identified that they have supported and worked with him on a variety of causes, were also told they could not go in.

“This is not a public meeting,” Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Helen Taylor told those assembled in the hall outside the Webster Room.

“Why is this not a public meeting?” asked one unidentified man, who told her he was a former student of Salvatore. “There are other members of the public inside there now.”

April Dahm, who was able to secure a chair in the hearing, told us LSUS leveled 13 charges against Salvatore. She said that LSUS stated that while they were supportive of Salvatore’s work on the environment, they believe that he has created a “hostile work environment.” Dahm said that Lt. General Russel Honore, the head of Joint Task Force Katrina and a supporter of Salvatore’s work at Camp Minden, spoke on behalf of Salvatore in the hearing. 

“I think the hearing went well,” said Salvatore’s attorney, Art Smith. “I think that the university presented no actual evidence. They read second- and third hand statements, it was very argumentative, and they used a lot of adjectives to characterize Salvatore’s free speech in the worst possible light. All the charges were related to free speech. The ‘hostile workplace environment’ comment was a characterization about some of the comments he has made to people while defending open meetings law.” The university declined to comment because it is a personnel matter.

Is there a line that can be drawn on free speech? “There is a definite line,” Smith told us. “Right up until the time you hurt someone. You cannot defame someone. Defamation law says you must act with malice and knowingly state falsities. You must have a reckless disregard for the truth.” Salvatore, Smith said, did not do that.

Marketing and PR director Smith told us the hearing is part of faculty due process for a tenured professor. She said after today’s five-hour hearing, the hearing panel, which she said is made up of unidentified faculty members the same rank as Salvatore or higher, will have a period of time to compile a recommendation to LSUS Chancellor Robert T. Smith.

“Chancellor Smith will decide whether to accept the recommendation or send it back. If he accepts it, it will then go to LSUS system president William F. Tate IV who will make the final determination.

The university’s policy for the hearing states that the “Faculty Senate Executive Committee shall serve an advisory role by submitting to the chancellor the names of ten faculty as possible committee members.” Salvatore’s history with the senate has been a contentious one with numerous disagreements and ongoing concerns about violations of public meetings laws. 

According to the minutes from the November 2022 meeting, the then-president of the faculty senate, Allen Garcie, asked the senate executive committee to support a resolution seeking an apology from Salvatore.

In part, the resolution stated that Salvatore questioned “the professionalism and integrity of the Faculty Research and Development Committee’s (FRDC) actions in its Fall 2022 decision on Sabbaticals (2023-2024).”

“Resolved, the FRDC stops all communication with Brian Salvatore about this and similar matters; the Faculty Senate president informs the executive committee of his unprofessional actions and the Faculty Senate president requests an apology from Brian Salvatore to the Committee and especially its chair.”

In October 2023, Salvatore challenged the September minutes of the faculty senate and asked for an examination of the current tenure promotion schedule and requirements, policies that he said had adversely affected a faculty member.

Salvatore has a history of being in the spotlight over controversial issues. He spent much of 2015 and 2016 warning of the dangers of open pit burning of chemicals and M6 propellant at Camp Minden in Webster Parish. More recently, he has sounded an alarm about possible dangers from urban fracking around Cross Lake, the city of Shreveport’s drinking water supply.

Ron Hagar supports Salvatore and spent his morning outside the University Center holding a hand-printed sign of support. He said that the two had “used free speech excessively” during the battle over the open air burning at Camp Minden and believes Salvatore deserves to keep his job.

The faculty policy does not give a timeline on when the hearing panel’s recommendation must be forwarded to the LSUS chancellor. “We will see what the panel says. It will not be decided by them,” Art Smith said. “We will take it to the Board of Supervisors, and if we have to, to court.”

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