Topeka Chancellor Robert Hemenway winced Thursday as a plan to hire faculty on contract at Kansas University Medical Center festered into a controversy infecting all six state universities.
"I want to make it clear the University of Kansas had no intention of provoking a profound study of tenure at the regents system," Hemenway told members of the Kansas Board of Regents.
He said faculty in nursing, medicine and allied health had endorsed a proposal to establish nontenure, renewable faculty positions at Kansas University Medical Center. The plan wouldn't affect hiring on KU's main campus in Lawrence, he said.
However, presidents of Fort Hays State University and Wichita State University complicated matters by expressing interest in expanding the hiring scheme to their campuses.
After a lengthy debate, regents agreed to form a task force to study the issue and report to the board in March. However, regents may approve Hemenway's request for KUMC in December.
Ted Ayres, regents general counsel, said state universities had operated for 50 years on the principle that a faculty member must be granted tenure or forced to resign within seven years.
A new hiring system that allowed faculty to receive 1- to 5-year contracts indefinitely would be a radical departure from the current system, he said.
Yet, Ayres said regents could legally craft a policy that enabled universities to make this kind of faculty appointment.
Regent Ken Havner of Hays expressed opposition to awarding nontenure faculty long-term contracts at any regents institution.
"I do have concerns about this," he said. "We have dropped the dye into a glass of water, and we don't know what we're doing."
Havner said he thought it was inappropriate to award a contract faculty member the title of associate professor or full professor when that person hadn't successfully completed tenure review.
However, Regent Sid Warner of Cimarron said this employment option would give university officials flexibility to deal with anticipated enrollment increases in the future. For example, contract faculty could be hired to teach courses where student demand increased.
"This would be another management tool," Warner said.