Faculty group adamantly opposes bypassing hiring protocol for KU liberal arts dean, likens administration to plantation ‘overseer’
photo by: Chris Conde
Leaders of the American Association of University Professors at the University of Kansas are voicing adamant opposition to a dean appointment at KU that violates typical protocol for such appointments.
Lorie Williams, who is the AAUP chapter president at KU, and Mohamed El-Hodiri, who is the state conference president for AAUP, told the Journal-World that the process being used to appoint a new dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences went against university norms of cooperative decision-making and damaged faculty-administration relations by “treating our great University and College as a feudalist plantation and the faculty as voiceless chattel to be supervised by a chosen ‘overseer.'”
The word “overseer” was a metaphor for the KU administration, El-Hodiri clarified.
Last month, KU’s interim provost, Carl Lejuez, proposed making KU’s interim CLAS dean, Clarence Lang, the permanent dean for the next three years without going through a formal search process. Lejuez, who was CLAS dean before filling in as provost, said the move was necessary because the university was going through a period of difficult budget cuts and needed Lang — who said he was being courted by another institution — to remain on the job.
Neither Lejuez nor Lang has ever disclosed the name of that institution.
Lejuez asked for input from the KU community on the proposal days after the university had largely shut down for winter break, a point that Williams and El-Hodiri emphasized, saying that most faculty, staff and students were away. Last week, nearly two weeks before the beginning of spring classes on Jan. 22, Lejuez said a decision would be made soon.
Some of the most vocal reaction has been to condemn the proposal — first, from the university and faculty senates, who expressed “shock” and blasted the bypassing of protocol in appointing the leader of the university’s largest school; and now, from the AAUP.
El-Hodiri, who is a KU economics professor, and Williams, a lecturer in the Applied English Center, both noted that their opposition had nothing to do with Lang personally or his qualifications; rather, they took issue with Lejuez’s willingness to violate hiring protocol and to simply “make the decision himself” about who would lead CLAS, which El-Hodiri described as the “cornerstone of the university.”
“If they appoint Jesus Christ, I would object,” El-Hodiri said. “It’s not about Clarence Lang at all but the procedure.”
In a letter to the Journal-World, El-Hodiri and Williams wrote: “KU has a long tradition of cooperative decision-making. That is why the Faculty Senate Rules and Regulations call for ‘the formation of a representative search committee (including members from relevant administrative, governance, faculty, staff, student, and professional or alumni constituencies)’ when hiring administrators.”
On Monday, Lejuez announced the promotion of another temporary department leader with the selection of interim dean Arvin Agah as permanent dean of the KU engineering school. That process did involve a search committee, led by KU’s outgoing dean of pharmacy, Ken Audus. In addition, three candidates, including Agah, took part in on-campus interviews that were open to members of the university community, who could then provide feedback online.
Contacted on Monday about the AAUP’s stance on the CLAS dean appointment, Lejuez said it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to comment while the process was ongoing.
“I think it’s vital for people in our community to feel they can voice their thoughts and feelings, and those open channels of communication are at the core of our being a university,” Lejuez said.