The American Association of University Professors, following up on faculty complaints of discrimination, is scrutinizing Kansas University's tenure process.
The state arm of AAUP, the nation's foremost higher education faculty organization with 45,000 members, began its probe in April.
It interviewed six current and former professors from KU campuses in Lawrence and Kansas City, Kan. It then forwarded a report to the national organization for consideration.
As part of the ongoing review, national AAUP, in an August 2000 exchange of letters with lawyers for the KU Medical Center, questioned the 1999 nonrenewal of a KUMC administrative professor's contract.
Dolores Furtado, a professor at the med center and member of AAUP's national executive committee, called accusations of tenure irregularities by faculty "troubling," if true.
Furtado was a member of the state AAUP team that interviewed the faculty members, some of whom apparently already have filed unsuccessful lawsuits against the university.
The faculty members are not identified by name in the state AAUP report. But Mike Cuenca, a journalism professor who is suing KU alleging discrimination, said he is one of the six.
A KU spokesman said university officials at the Lawrence campus haven't yet heard from the national AAUP about the allegations.
"We've never been contacted by the AAUP about this," said Todd Cohen, assistant director of university relations. "This looks like the revisiting of a lot of issues that have been adjudicated."
But officials at the medical center have responded to questions about the termination of Fred Whitehead, who was an associate professor in the department of family medicine. Whitehead administered the program that sent medical students to work in Kansas communities.
Whitehead provided the Journal-World with copies of the letters between medical center lawyers and the AAUP.
AAUP's contention, from the state committee to the national office, is that an appointment such as Whitehead's, which was determined by faculty peer review and renewed annually for 22 years, constitutes de facto tenure.
Whitehead, AAUP argues, should receive the same rights to due process as any tenured faculty member.
AAUP definitions carry a lot of weight on university campuses and are written into most faculty handbooks, including KU's.
According to a letter from the medical center's associate general counsel, Whitehead knew his appointments were only for a year at a time, and that language is binding.
Regarding the Lawrence campus faculty's complaints, the state committee recommended the national AAUP investigate the following accusations:
KU faculty do not have access to their personnel files and must sign the files turned over to tenure committees without being able to review them for accuracy.
Tenure procedures are not clearly spelled out in the faculty handbook, and the existing procedures tend to be followed inconsistently.
Discrimination complaints are not investigated fully at KU.
Deans and departmental chairs can exercise great influence over the outcome of tenure committee deliberations.
Cohen denied the accusations.
National AAUP officials did not reply to phone calls requesting information about how they are following up on the state committee's recommendations.
AAUP's most severe punishment is censure, which can harm a university's reputation and discourage new faculty from going to work at that school.
Furtado said she has not heard about any action taken on the issues regarding the Lawrence campus raised by the committee.
Cohen said the Lawrence campus complies with AAUP procedures.
About 45,000 faculty nationwide are AAUP members. The KU chapter is small and inactive, said Furtado and state AAUP officials. They did not know the size of the KU chapter, and chapter officers did not reply to requests for information. There are 946 faculty members at KU, according to statistics from the university Office of Institutional Research and Planning.