A new state law requiring the disclosure of personal financial details by several hundred Kansas University professors as well as thousands of their colleagues across the state has caught them by surprise, leaving many perplexed or angry.
"It seems to me this is entirely out of line," said Allan Hanson, KU professor of anthropology.
A year ago, the Kansas Legislature passed an obscure amendment to the state government ethics law that requires faculty members making $50,000 or more and who are employed by a state education institution to complete a "statement of substantial interests." The requirement doesn't include adjunct faculty.
KU professors who fall into that category were first informed of the new rule last month and reminded again earlier this month, according to the provost's office. But it was a law that KU officials didn't know about until after it was passed.
"No one consulted us, nor did anyone consult the Board of Regents," said Jeannette Johnson, assistant to Provost David Shulenburger. "It was not something we knew in advance was on anyone's legislative program."
The new law also came as a surprise to the Kansas Ethics Commission, which handles the paperwork required in the filing of such statements. The commission office wasn't told until the beginning of the year that about 4,600 new substantial interest statements would flow into the office and need to be filed with the Kansas Secretary of State. That is in addition to about 6,000 filings the office would normally receive this year, director Carol Williams said.
"This commission and its staff did not know that the Legislature had even done that until this January," Williams said. "It was not in any of the committees that we were involved in. It was an amendment to a bill that we had no knowledge of at all."
'Invasion of privacy'
Williams said she had no idea why the law was needed.
Neither does Hanson. The form he has to fill out not only requests information about his outside income and gifts but also information about his wife's income and business.
"It seems to me the state is trying to probe into matters that are irrelevant to my duties as a professor of anthropology and is an unwarranted invasion of privacy and my spouse's," Hanson said.
A statement of substantial interests is aimed at revealing or preventing any type of conflict of interest among certain state employees. Included are legislators and others who hold elective offices and people who are appointed to office subject to Senate confirmation. Also included are general counsels and state employees or board members who are designees of agency heads and private consultants under state contract.
Conflicts of interest
The amendment was introduced by Rep. John Faber, R-Brewster. Faber said he worked on the amendment with House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg, and others.
In 2002, McKinney and other legislators backed a bill that would have required universities to disclose consulting contracts between professors and businesses. He said he was concerned about university professors who have consulting contracts exerting influence in favor of the companies they have contracts with. There have been examples when that has happened over the past few years.
"There are so many in the higher education field who are increasingly dependent on privately funded research," McKinney said Thursday. "We really don't want to stop that; we just want to apply the same principles we have for elected officials and once the information is out there people can make up their own minds."
Hanson described himself as "just a grunt teaching classes" and noted that professors already fill out a federal conflict of interest statement.
McKinney said he didn't think there was any attempt to conceal the bill when it was passed last year. He said it was well discussed on the House floor. Changes can be made to the law to make it work better if necessary, he said.
"A lot of us didn't see this as being a major problem," McKinney said.
The substantial interest law has been amended several times over the years. In its early form, the law set income amounts in determining who should file the statements. In later years the income levels were replaced by types of jobs people have. The new requirement for faculty is the only provision that specifies a dollar income amount.
Several hundred KU staff already were required to complete the substantial interest forms. Adding several hundred professors brings the total to about 1,400 employees, Johnson said.