Report: LSU curbed levee critic's academic freedom

Louisiana State University violated the academic freedom of a professor who was fired for publicly criticizing the construction of the New Orleans levees after Hurricane Katrina, a higher education group said in a report Monday.

Ivor van Heerden was punished for speaking his mind and his right to due process was denied, the American Association of University Professors said. Van Heerden was fired in 2009 after he linked the flooding that followed the storm to shoddy levee work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He had been with the school since 1992.

"Obviously, it's a sad day for LSU but vindication for myself," van Heerden said. "I hope that LSU will take this and learn from it and ensure that it never again allows the administrators to violate the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech."

Van Heerden has sued LSU in federal court, and the school would not comment on the group's report because of the lawsuit.

Last month, U.S. District Judge James Brady said the lawsuit can proceed, adding that LSU might have violated the state's whistleblower-protection law by trying to keep him from speaking out.

However, Brady ruled in February that van Heerden wasn't entitled to tenure protection, thereby hurting his chances of getting rehired and compensated.

The association stopped short of issuing a censure for LSU, which is its harshest rebuke and given to schools where the group believes academic freedom is imperiled.