In a statewide survey released today, faculty members ranked Kansas University’s governance practices next-to-last among Kansas Board of Regents universities.
Pittsburg State University received the highest score in the survey, which was conducted by the Kansas division of the American Association of University Professors last month. The KU Medical Center, ranked separately from the Edwards and Lawrence campuses, finished second. Fort Hays State University fell in last.
The survey largely concerned how much university administrations allowed faculty to have a voice in the governing of each institution, with the faculty respondents grading their institutions on an A-F scale on about 40 different questions.
KU spokeswoman Jill Jess issued a written response to the survey’s findings from the university.
“The University of Kansas has a long, productive history of shared governance, and we continue to believe in its importance to the future of the institution,” Jess said. “We’re disappointed that some of the faculty who responded to this survey have concerns and will continue to work to ensure all feel welcome at the university.”
One specific area in which KU trailed the other universities was respondents’ perception of discrimination against faculty based on their sexuality.
On survey questions asking whether the university, or a specific school or college, discourages discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered faculty, KU received a C-minus grade. The KU Medical Center, though, easily outranked all the other institutions in that area.
Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, an associate professor of aerospace engineering at KU who is president-elect of the statewide AAUP group, helped oversee the survey.
He said the group had sent the survey to every faculty member it could find at each of the Regents universities, more than 4,000. About 340 responded, making for a response rate of about 8 percent. Barrett-Gonzalez guessed that about 100 KU faculty had responded.
He said Pittsburg State’s scores had stood out as excellent, while KU’s lower scores could suggest that some faculty wonder whether their voices are being heard among the administration.
“Some people at KU may feel that their wishes are not as represented as the faculty down at Pitt State,” Barrett-Gonzalez said, emphasizing that was his view and not an official stance of the Kansas AAUP group.
Chris Crandall, a professor of psychology and the president of KU’s University Senate, said he believed faculty do play a meaningful voice in the decisions made at KU.
“I don’t feel that we’re way behind in terms of having our voices heard or playing a role in policies and procedures,” Crandall said.
He mentioned governance groups’ recent response to the issue of post-tenure review, saying the Board of Regents said they considered KU’s Faculty Senate a leader on the issue.
He said the faculty do not run the university, and things could be improved.
Crandall said some faculty could be uneasy about the ambitious changes called for by Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Provost Jeff Vitter: a revamped undergraduate curriculum, efficiency measures that include staff reorganizations and more.
“The pace of change is very fast, and the speed is being pressed by the provost, in particular,” Crandall said.
Barrett-Gonzalez noted that KU, along with most of the other universities, scored highly on the inclusion of minority and women faculty members. But he said KU’s lower scores on the treatment of GLBT faculty presented a particular concern.
“We would hope that across the university, and across each unit level, each college and school, steps would be taken to correct this,” Barrett-Gonzalez said.
Several comments left by KU faculty members who responded to the survey alleged anti-GLBT discrimination at the school or department level.
Barrett-Gonzalez said the perception could be connected to the controversy earlier this year surrounding the denial of tenure to mechanical engineering professor Albert Romkes, who alleged possible discrimination based on his homosexuality.
Romkes sued to overturn the decision in Douglas County District Court and lost. The KU chapter of the AAUP issued a statement in February urging the university to reconsider the decision to deny him tenure.
Barrett-Gonzalez said the Kansas AAUP group was the first state chapter in the country to administer a survey like this, based on indicators of "sound governance" developed by the national AAUP organization. He said the Kansas group hoped to make it an annual survey, and the national organization aims to distribute similar surveys across the country eventually.