KU official seeks to bypass protocol in appointing dean of university’s largest school; faculty leaders cry foul
photo by: Dylan Lysen
Fear of losing an interim dean during a critical time at the University of Kansas has led KU’s interim provost to suggest bypassing the usual protocol for hiring deans — a move that has shocked some in the university community.
Interim Provost Carl Lejuez made the suggestion to keep Clarence Lang, the interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in the CLAS position for another three years in a surprise campuswide email Thursday, days after the university had largely shut down for winter break.
Describing his email as “urgent news,” Lejuez, who was CLAS dean before becoming interim provost, asked faculty, students and staff to weigh in on the possibility of offering Lang a three-year appointment to the position.
According to the email, Lejuez was exploring the option because the university was in danger of losing Lang, who said he had been offered a dean position at a major national research institution. Lang declined to tell the Journal-World the name of that institution.
photo by: University of Kansas
Losing Lang now would be critical given the university is in the final stages of a $20 million budget cut and the development of a new budget model, Lejuez said.
But the idea of appointing Lang without a typical dean search shocked Ruben Flores, the president of University Senate and an associate professor in the Department of American Studies, who was told the news on Wednesday by Lejuez, before the universitywide email.
“It’s outside the usual protocol,” Flores said, noting that routine practice is to appoint a search committee and interview several candidates, including having those candidates make formal presentations to the university.
Flores was also concerned because this would be affecting the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the largest school on KU’s campus.
Others were critical of Lejuez’s timing.
“The week between Christmas and New Year is the deadest on campus,” said Shawn Alexander, the incoming Faculty Senate president. “He is asking for feedback in between two holidays, which is problematic. Students are away, many of the faculty are traveling for the holiday, and this is when staff takes time off. They may not be checking their emails,” which means many might not be able to offer feedback on the issue.
Lejuez had set a deadline of Dec. 27 for responses, but on Friday he changed the deadline to 5 p.m. Jan. 3. Classes resume on Jan. 22.
After sending the email just before 1 p.m. Thursday, Lejuez said he had received more than 200 responses by the end of that business day.
“So far responses have been very thoughtful, and many people have understood the situation we have found ourselves in and have given thoughtful answers which are valuable,” Lejuez said. However, he declined to say whether they were pro or con regarding the issue.
Lejuez said he felt strongly that KU needs the stability of Lang.
“I believe he truly loves KU,” Lejuez said. “I believe he wants to be the dean, and, if I offer, I believe he will stay.”
Lejuez would not tell the Journal-World how much money would be offered to Lang to stay. Lejuez, when he was CLAS dean, made $320,000 per year. As interim provost he makes $410,000 a year. Lang was making $117,000 per year as a professor, according to KU records; it wasn’t clear Friday what his current salary as interim CLAS dean is.
Before Lang became interim CLAS dean on April 30, replacing Lejuez, he was chair of the African and African American Studies Department. He first came to KU in the spring of 2011. During the 2015-2016 academic year, Lang was a senior administrative fellow in the Office of Provost and co-chair of the university’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group.
Lang said he informed Lejuez of his other job offer as a courtesy. Regarding whether he would stay if offered the position, Lang told the Journal-World that it’s not as simple as being made an offer; it’s also an issue of public sentiment.
“It’s really important to know how people feel about the possibility,” Lang said. “That certainly would have an impact.”
Lang knows people desire transparent decision-making, and there is also concern about retaining administrators, faculty and staff.
“The clear thing is it’s difficult to govern and manage if people feel the individual has been imposed upon them,” Lang said. “It’s important that people have the opportunity to weigh in on their preferences. Carl has put the question to the campus community.”
Both Flores and Alexander worry that if Lejuez makes the appointment it will be the second time he has appointed Lang without an interview process. He appointed Lang interim CLAS dean without going through candidate interviews.
“The students, faculty and staff that Lang will lead have never had an opportunity to question him on the policies that guide the school,” Flores said.
“This is in opposition to regular protocol at the university and, most importantly, there has been a trend with Lejuez circumventing normal university procedure of appointment,” Alexander said.
In October the University Governance sent a memo to the chancellor indicating that unit and department chairs were sometimes being appointed without compliance with university policies and department bylaws, Flores said.
Lejuez said he understood the faculty concerns.
“The search process is an important foundation of the university and one of the main reasons I am asking for feedback,” Lejuez said. “But we have a situation where neither option is perfect. Sometimes we are picking between two imperfect options.”
Lejuez noted that Lang’s appointment would be for a three-year term, not the five-year term a dean is usually offered.
Lang is married to Jennifer Hamer, vice provost for diversity and equity at KU. Lejuez said that relationship had nothing to do with wanting Lang to stay on at KU.
“This is separate,” he said.
Other faculty members have been weighing in — critically — on the provost’s plan.
“I can’t imagine it is a good thing to simply appoint a dean without a search regardless of how good a job he is doing,” wrote Susan B. Twombly, professor and chair of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, in her emailed response to Lejuez, which she was willing to share with the Journal-World. “Doing so violates some of the fundamental traditions of academia in which faculty play a role in selecting their colleagues and also administrators of academic units.”
Twombly said it runs the risk of making the appointee’s job more difficult.
“Additionally, there is a danger that these seemingly small violations of normal procedures become institutionalized very quickly as they have for presidential/chancellor searches,” she said.
She’s also concerned that the input Lejuez asked for runs the risk of being merely symbolic if participants are not provided with a full accounting of the results.
A national search for a provost is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2019, according to a news release from KU Chancellor Douglas Girod in the fall. If Lejuez, who is a candidate for the position, is not selected, he could normally return to his position as the dean of CLAS, but by appointing Lang to that position, he would be giving up that option.
“There is no ulterior motive related to me,” Lejuez said. “I know it takes away my opportunity to go back to the college.”