KU faculty leaders express frustration with administration for lack of transparency amid $20 million budget cut

photo by: Sylas May/Journal-World Photo Illustration

Some faculty leaders say that Prominent University of Kansas figures such as (clockwise from top left) Interim Provost Carl Lejuez, Chancellor Douglas Girod and university spokesman Joe Monaco are not being transparent enough about the $20 million budget cut the university is facing.

As the University of Kansas continues to deal with a $20 million budget cut and plans to switch to a new budget model in 2020, faculty leaders recently expressed frustration over what they consider a lack of transparency from the university’s administration.

While Kirk McClure, Faculty Senate president, and Ruben Flores, University Senate president, agreed interim provost Carl Lejuez seems to be sharing the most information through monthly town hall meetings, they both said they find KU Chancellor Douglas Girod seems mostly unavailable throughout the whole process.

But when Lejuez spoke with the Journal-World about their criticisms, he defended Girod’s and the administration’s efforts to share information on the budget situation. He said much of the information Flores and McClure are requesting is not yet available.

“The reason we are explaining things as we go is because we only know so much,” Lejuez said. “As we know (more), we will share more.”

McClure said his frustration comes down to a lack of answers on several questions from Girod and Lejuez, but he said he believes Lejuez is “being as transparent as he can be.” Girod, however, has not been readily available to discuss budget issues, McClure said.

McClure said he understands most of the budget-related responsibilities for the Lawrence campus belong to Lejuez. But he pointed to some requests he’s made that would need to be decided by the chancellor and he said he has only been able to meet with Girod about those a few times. Additionally, McClure said that when he or the faculty ask Girod questions, he is evasive.

“When we send things to the chancellor and we get no response for 10 to 12 weeks, that’s detached,” McClure said.

In his most recent meeting with Girod on Feb. 11, McClure said Girod granted two of his requests, including moving the university’s jet into a “private entity,” to help alleviate the $20 million cut’s effects on staff and faculty. But when the Journal-World asked for confirmation, university spokesman Joe Monaco did not confirm or deny that they had been granted.

“(Monaco’s) response does not jibe with what I understood to be decisions from the chancellor,” McClure said.

McClure said that is an example of a lack of transparency from the chancellor. He said he shared that information with the faculty because he thought the chancellor knew he would go public with it.

When the Journal-World asked Monaco for comment from him or Girod about McClure’s transparency criticism, Monaco deferred questions to Lejuez.

Lejuez said it’s important to understand that he and Girod work very closely on the budget. He said he is responsible for executing the broad vision for the budget that the chancellor sets.

“One thing that may be lost on people is that my ability to be transparent and share everything is because of the chancellor, because this is a culture he wants to create,” Lejuez said. “He empowers me to do this.

“From my perspective, (Girod) is the guiding vision at KU of ensuring that we provide transparency and that we are accessible and accountable,” Lejuez added. “Many times that is done through me, but it is done in full collaboration with him.”

Unanswered questions

McClure said he has repeatedly asked Lejuez for an extensive breakdown of the jobs that will be eliminated because of the budget cut. In December, Lejuez said 155 jobs will be eliminated, including 30 positions that will be laid off.

While Lejuez gave an estimated breakdown per university unit — such as job eliminations from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and the School of Education — during his most recent meeting on Tuesday, McClure said he wants to know what departments within those units will be seeing job eliminations.

“Short of that, I can’t tell who’s being hurt and who’s being helped in this process,” McClure said.

Lejuez said that because the information deals with personnel issues, the university likely won’t be able to share it publicly. He also said the university doesn’t know exactly which positions will be cut yet because it will partially depend on which faculty take buyouts to eliminate their positions.

McClure said he understands there may be some information Lejuez can’t share for personnel reasons, and that he doesn’t have much of an issue with Lejuez’s transparency.

Flores, however, said he thinks Lejuez could be more transparent. He said he sent a list of 25 questions about the budget situation from the faculty and staff to Lejuez on Jan. 15 and asked for a response to them by Jan. 25. He said he still has not received a response.

“It’s a failure to get back to us when we ask questions that we think are important,” Flores said.

Lejuez said he told Flores that he did not answer the questions because he thought the tone they were written in was “in bad faith.” He said he told Flores that he wanted those questions to be asked in person at his budget meetings or in a university senate meeting Lejuez would attend.

Lejuez pointed to the town hall meetings he has been holding on the budget, which have all concluded with time for questions. He has also provided “office hours” for people to ask him questions in person, but on Tuesday he said almost no one has done that.

As for Girod, Flores said he’s asked him for alternative budget scenarios, such as what the budget would look like if the university made a $10 million or $15 million cut instead, or what the budget would look like if KU Endowment provided more general funding to the university.

“We’re not asking for him to implement them,” Flores said. “The purpose is so we can place alternatives side by side and enter a discussion with our own constituencies about what the best way forward is. But we’ve never received an answer for those inquiries.”

Flores said these are examples of a pattern of unresponsive behavior by the administration.

“You come away feeling either they don’t care, or they are too busy to make time to get back (to us),” Flores said.

On this matter, Lejuez again defended Girod. He said he told Flores in the beginning that the administration had agreed the $20 million budget cut was the only viable option.

“There is a difference between not giving an answer, and not giving the answer that someone wants to hear,” Lejuez said.

Additionally, Flores is worried many of the details about the budget that he is requesting are going to be revealed when many people leave campus this summer. He said the initial announcement of the $20 million cut came in May 2018, after the semester had already ended.

“It seems to me to be a pattern of evasion of responsibility to the community,” he said.

‘(Lejuez) keeps putting himself out there’

Not all of the leaders that make up University Senate find the administration to be lacking transparency, though. Michelle Ginavan Hayes, the staff senate president, said she thinks Lejuez is doing a good job with his monthly budget meetings.

“The provost has been more transparent than any leader that I can remember,” she said. “If you have a question, there’s no reason it can’t be answered.”

When she was asked about Girod, she said she is aware some don’t think he is transparent or available to discuss the budget, but she believes Lejuez and Girod serve different roles.

“I believe the provost has the support of the chancellor,” she said. “I just don’t know if it’s the chancellor’s role to be out there to provide the information. I think that’s the provost’s role and that’s what (Lejuez) has volunteered to do. He keeps putting himself out there.”

Contact Dylan Lysen

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