Kansas University has an active diversity task force, the "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Group" created in November by the Office of the Provost. But there are two main problems with it, said University Senate President Mike Williams, who is a representative on the group.
One, it’s finite. Two, it’s not autonomous from university administration.
Williams wants the University Senate to establish a permanent and separate standing committee to address diversity, he said at this week's University Senate Executive Committee meeting.
He said he’s working on a proposal and hopes to bring it to the full University Senate for a vote before the end of the school year. He said the proposal may be to create an ad hoc committee first, which under University Senate rules could be populated and begin work immediately, with the idea it would lead to a permanent committee later, which would take more time to formalize.
Williams said “many” other universities have such committees for diversity and that he was surprised KU did not.
“I think it’s more than just an appropriate gesture,” Williams said. “It’s overdue. I think it’s a chance for governance to become very visible in their support of improving the climate of the university.”
KU’s Student Senate already has a Multicultural Affairs Committee, one of that body’s four standing committees (the others are Finance, Student Rights and University Affairs). The University Senate (composed of students, faculty and staff) currently has nine standing committees: Academic Computing and Electronic Communications, Academic Policies and Procedures, Athletic, Calendar, International Affairs, Libraries, Organization and Administration, Planning and Resources, and Retirees Rights and Benefits.
Williams said fellow Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Group members and others have said that KU should have a body “beyond administrative reach” that can hear concerns from across campus and make recommendations for how the university can do better.
From the Provost's website, this is the charge of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Group: "The DEI Advisory Group will discover and inform our campus community of patterns of discrimination, including lack of respect, inclusion, and equity in our educational and research environments and social communities. The group will consider on an ongoing basis the degree to which we provide inclusive educational, research, and social environments for all students, staff, and faculty."
• University governance turnover: KU’s various governing bodies are amid their respective changing of the guards this time of year. Student Senate elections are today (Wednesday) and Thursday, and newly elected incoming leaders will meet jointly with outgoing representatives April 27. (If you're interested, The University Daily Kansan covered the presidential and vice presidential candidates' debate here, and published a guide outlining each of the two coalitions' platforms here.)
Faculty Senate, Staff Senate and University Senate also are in the process of naming new leaders and will hold their last meetings of the year in coming weeks.
— I’m the Journal-World’s KU and higher ed reporter. See all the newspaper’s KU coverage at KUToday.com. Reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 832-7187, on Twitter @saramarieshep or via Facebook at Facebook.com/SaraShepherdNews.
Sporting events, high-risk facilities mentioned as likely locations for prohibiting guns at KU; fans may have to go through metal detectors at Jayhawk games
The subject of guns on campus, as it usually does these days, came up in Thursday’s Kansas University Senate meeting. A KU-specific policy for implementing the law is still in infancy and nothing has been decided, but some tidbits of Thursday’s discussion may be of interest to the KU community.
For one, the University Senate’s weapons committee will continue to meet with groups across campus, University Senate President Mike Williams said. He said conversations with KU Athletics leaders indicate KU will at least need to put in place adequate security measures to prohibit guns during games at Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium. That raises the possibility that fans will have to go through metal detectors at both Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium.
Also, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said areas with sensitive materials are likely candidates for security measures. (She did not specify any locations, but faculty have previously cited concerns over science and engineering labs housing combustible substances.)
“There are places at the campus where, because of the materials there, they’d have to be excluded because an accidental discharge of a weapon would be disastrous,” Gray-Little said.
A committee led by KU administration will develop a policy for allowing concealed carry on campus, which will be required by state law beginning in July 2017. Last month, the Kansas Board of Regents approved a policy requiring each state university to develop a campus-specific plan.
In other University Senate news:
• The KU Staff Senate has created a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Staff Senate President Chris Wallace reported. “We’ve come to realize our Senate is not real diverse,” he said, adding that the committee’s goal is outreach to underrepresented groups.
• The University Senate elected a new vice president, graduate student and Student Senate representative Brent Lee. Lee will complete the term of Shegufta Huma, who is not enrolled as a student this semester.
— I’m the Journal-World’s KU and higher ed reporter. See all the newspaper’s KU coverage here. Reach me by email at email@example.com, by phone at 832-7187, on Twitter @saramarieshep or via Facebook at Facebook.com/SaraShepherdNews.
At the first University Senate meeting of the school year Thursday, leaders of KU’s various governing bodies shared some of their major charges for the upcoming year. Here are a handful of highlights from their reports:
• After announcing that the chancellor had approved the Senate’s Social Media Policy procedure recommendation with only “a few minor corrections,” University Senate president Michael Williams, professor of journalism, said one of the group’s most important focuses for the upcoming year was going to be guns. Specifically, an ad hoc committee will discuss and recommend best practices for when the day comes that weapons are allowed on campus, including inside buildings and classrooms. Williams said he hoped the committee would have a report by the end of the school year.
“For organization’s sake and for preparation’s sake, we’re hoping to have something ready for the university to embrace ... a set of documents that are acceptable to all involved,” Williams said.
News to you? In case you missed it, recently enacted Kansas law does indeed say that government buildings can no longer ban concealed weapons without security measures such as metal detectors. I wrote this pretty extensive article about the issue back in May (“Kansas universities lack firm plan for concealed guns on campus, making some anxious”) and a little more shortly afterward when University Senate first announced its ad hoc committee (“University Senate forms committee to address guns on campus”).
• Faculty Senate president Tom Beisecker, associate professor of communications, said faculty want to take a closer look at the International Academic Accelerator Program, a 1-year-old initiative to recruit and international students to KU and support them when they arrive. Beisecker didn’t elaborate on Thursday, but at past university governance meetings, faculty members have complained that some students don’t seem to have the English proficiency they should, and also bemoaned the fact that — because KU partners on the program with a private company, Shorelight Education — some financial and other information about it is secret.
The Journal-World did try to get a copy of KU’s 15-year contract with Shorelight through an open records request. However, back in March 2014, Shorelight sought and won an injunction in Douglas County District Court barring the contract's release.
• Student Senate Vice President Zach George said that diversity would be one of the biggest issues the Student Senate will be pushing this year, and leaders try to address it every chance they get in meetings with university officials. “This is not only a very important issue for our campus but also nationally,” George said.
• Staff Senate President Chris Wallace said he expected his group’s big discussions to involve weapons and potential changes to KU’s smoking policy.
Williams noted that the committees and charges were established back in June but that they’re fluid, and if significant new issues arise the Senate should add them to the list. A suggestion for at least one new charge immediately followed: parking. KU Parking and Transit redesignated a number of lots this year, and a lot of students and faculty aren’t happy about it, saying they have fewer — and insufficient — parking options. (Like, even more than usual.)
• Some big KU alumni news from Thursday: President Barack Obama presented a National Medal of Arts to 1979 KU textile design graduate and visual artist Ann Hamilton. The medal is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government, and Hamilton received hers in a batch of 11 artists that included writer Stephen King and actor Sally Field. Hamilton “uses time as process and material, and her work demonstrates the importance of experiencing the arts firsthand in the digital age,” according to prepared comments from the White House.
Hamilton’s unique, large-scale work was recently on display here in Lawrence, when she teamed up with her former KU teacher and textile artist Cynthia Schira for an exhibition titled “An Errant Line.” In the 2013 installation, the artists used digital tools to cast a new lens onto the unique architectural features and existing artworks at KU’s Spencer Museum of Art.
• The big Jayhawk Boulevard reconstruction project (which included replanting trees on either side of the roadway that, once they’re bigger, will form a tree canopy like the one KU’s main drag used to be framed by) is being dedicated Friday, will remarks and a ribbon-cutting at 11:15 a.m. on the Strong Hall lawn. KU also is using the event as an opportunity to celebrate the university’s 150th anniversary — and promises there will be no fewer than 1,500 cupcakes.
I welcome feedback and KU news tips, and as always I’m at 785-832-7187 on the phone, firstname.lastname@example.org by email or @saramarieshep/@LJW_KU on Twitter.
For five years, Kansas University's University Senate has been studying the issue of domestic partner benefits, urging KU to offer them, and basically getting nowhere. The new U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage — obviously — is not a mere suggestion. It's causing real change, and swiftly.
Just three months ago I reported the University Senate was formally recommending that KU offer benefits to employees’ domestic partners, following a report from the Senate’s Domestic Partner Benefits Committee. At the time, I got the sense that senators didn't think that would happen anytime soon but they wanted their stance on the record, nonetheless. (Note that their recommendation was for domestic partner benefits because they wanted benefits for same-sex spouses as well as non-married partners, same or opposite sex.) A snip from that story:
“KU does offer a few benefits to domestic partners — including gym access and bereavement leave for various definitions of partners — but not the most valuable benefits, which are medical and dental insurance, according to the report.”
Back in 2010 we reported that the initial Domestic Partner Benefits Committee was launching its first study. That resulted in more or less the same conclusions and the same University Senate support — and also the same lack of real effect. Again, from my April story:
“The university has cited state and federal laws, as well as challenging tax and regulatory implications to providing domestic partner benefits, as roadblocks, according to the report.”
Enter the June 26 Supreme Court ruling that all states must legally recognize same-sex marriage.
Today, KU Provost Jeff Vitter addressed the issue of same-sex spouse benefits in his e-newsletter, saying:
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling on marriage equality affects University of Kansas faculty and staff, as well as our families, friends, and neighbors. Recent news reports highlighted that all 105 counties in Kansas will now issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Today, we received the very good news that state agencies involved with revising policies are reaching out to clarify how and when benefits will be extended to spouses and dependents of state employees affected by the decision. Human Resources Management will share detailed information with faculty and staff as soon as it learns the date of implementation from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's Division of Health Care Finance.”
So while paperwork may not be in order for employees to sign up today, it appears that at least for same-sex married couples the option is imminent — and no longer just a suggestion.
The KU faculty, staff and student governance meetings I check out on occasion can venture into some esoteric territory. (Thursday I witnessed a debate that featured several folks weighing in on whether a proposed policy could be described as "Byzantine.") But they can also be quite educational.
For instance, Thursday at a University Senate meeting I learned that KU does not provide as much tuition assistance for its faculty or staff or, especially, their spouses or dependents as some other universities around the state and the nation, at least according to a report from a task force that had looked into the subject. (That's the other thing about these governance groups: There are a lot of task forces. Task forces and committees, of the standing and non-standing varieties.)
The group was led by Donna Ginther, a professor of economics, and it reported that KU's policies on tuition support for faculty, staff and their families lagged behind other Board of Regents institutions and a selection of seven "peer" universities from around the country, for the most part.
KU allows faculty and staff who work at least half-time to apply to take one free course each semester, for up to five credit hours, which theoretically allows for up to 15 credits per year if you factor in the summer term. However, that policy doesn't apply to anyone who has a doctoral degree, which obviously counts out a lot of faculty. And it does not stretch to spouses, children or dependents. KU is the only Regents university that doesn't offer assistance to dependents, and one of only two (along with Washburn) not to offer it for spouses.
Kansas State University, for example, allows for a few free credit hours for spouses or children of faculty or staff each semester, with a few qualifiers. K-State reported to the group that it provides just shy of $1 million worth of tuition assistance each year, on average. KU's estimated cost is around $275,000 per year.
There is one big caveat: The children and dependents of KU employees and faculty are eligible for a merit scholarship from Coca-Cola, as part of the company's beverage deal with KU, for up to $1,000 per year. That covers about three credit hours, at the tuition rate paid by incoming freshmen for 2012-13. According to the report, that scholarship paid a bit more than $150,000 in tuition for 185 students this academic year.
Anyway, as you might expect, the faculty, student and staff representatives who put this report together recommended that KU expand its assistance. They suggested expanding it to all faculty and staff with at least six months' service and their dependents, spouses or domestic partners, and also providing more credit hours' worth. The group reported it was tough to guess exactly what that might cost, maybe somewhere between $400,000 and $1 million. It suggested KU pay for that with savings from its Changing for Excellence efficiency campaign.
Ginther argued in Thursday's meeting that the expanded assistance might help KU, too, perhaps making it more attractive to potential faculty. And, she said, the children of faculty and staff might likely be pretty good students that KU would like to recruit.
University Senate president Chris Crandall said he guessed that the university administration would be unlikely to make that change right at the moment, as budget matters are uncertain. But the faculty, staff and students at the meeting Thursday voted unanimously to send the recommendation and the accompanying report to Provost Jeff Vitter.
No KU tuition assistance is available for Heard on the Hill bloggers, and even if it were, their bosses would probably frown upon that arrangement. But you can offer me your own form of assistance: KU news tips. Send 'em to email@example.com.