KU faculty call prevalence of interim leaders a ‘problem,’ question interim provost’s participation in search process

photo by: Chris Conde

Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus is shown on Sept. 13, 2018.

With six university leadership positions currently filled by interims and another interim on the way, some University of Kansas professors and students are calling the situation a “problem,” while interim Provost Carl Lejuez labels the situation unstable but not chaotic.

Professors are also concerned that searches to replace interims with permanent appointees are being conducted by Lejuez, an interim himself whose future at KU is unknown.

“Only the Trump administration has more interims than we do,” Faculty Senate President Shawn Alexander said in a phone interview.

The current interims are Jennifer Ng, interim vice provost for Diversity and Equity; Susan Klusmeier, interim vice provost for Undergraduate Studies; John Colombo, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Audrey Lamb, interim dean of Graduate Studies; Mahbub Rashid, interim dean of the School of Architecture and Design; and Lejuez, who was the dean of liberal arts and sciences before becoming the interim provost.

That’s six. And with Chancellor Douglas Girod’s announcement of the departure of Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Reggie Robinson, another interim is on the way.

Lejuez addressed university leadership in his Sept. 16 community forum, stating that there “is an important difference between instability and chaos. We have some instability because we have interim roles, but the people in these roles are incredibly strong.”

Some professors and Student Body President Tiara Floyd did not dispute the caliber of those serving in the interim roles, but many said the turnovers were problematic.

“It’s definitely a problem,” Floyd said. “It looks like no one at the university wants to stay at the university.” Floyd added that the situation is not a good selling point for those thinking about applying for positions within the KU community.

Mohamed El-Hodiri, an economics professor who has worked at KU for 52 years, said the current number of interims serving in high leadership positions was larger than any he had seen before.

Alexander agreed that the current number was not normal and also voiced his concern that the interims spanned so many departments and schools: “Come this time next year, the university may have a completely different leadership team other than the chancellor,” he said.

In a phone interview on Oct. 9, Lejuez called the turnovers “not uncommon” for a university. He said that while “numbers are higher than we’d like,” he noted that the university was actively engaged in searches to fill four of those leadership positions with permanent replacements.

Those four positions are provost, vice provost of Diversity and Equity, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies and dean of Graduate Studies.

The interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences cannot be replaced with a permanent leader until the new provost is chosen, since Lejuez served in that role before moving to the interim Provost position. And the School of Architecture & Design has requested extended time to find a permanent replacement.

But some professors are concerned that Lejuez is conducting these searches.

Lejuez is not aiding in the search process for the new provost. He is an applicant for that position, but he is conducting searches for the other positions.

Alexander’s biggest concern “is that we have interims leading searches to replace interims.” It makes Alexander “uncomfortable” that Lejuez is filling leadership roles but that Lejuez himself could leave the university in a matter of months if he is not chosen as the permanent provost.

Lejuez, meanwhile, asked “where would we be?” if he hadn’t filled positions during his time as interim provost.

“We can’t sit around,” he said.

University Senate President Suzanne Valdez questioned the urgency of filling these positions.

“Why not allow those decisions to be made by the permanent provost when he or she is named?” she said. Valdez said there would be more legitimacy to the permanent searches if there were stable leadership in the provost position first.

One professor, Kirk McClure, said he appreciated that those in interim roles have been making strategic decisions. McClure said he thinks the instability has two roots. First is the loss of resources from the state of Kansas. (In February, the Kansas Board of Regents said state support for general use budgets decreased by 14% in the past 10 years. Since February, lawmakers have increased funding by $28.4 million.) Second is his belief that the university spends more money on a “revolving door” of administrators than on quality faculty.

“I’m very scared of people who become this permanent administration class,” he said. “And that, in my mind, is the instability we have here. Not the incidence of the interims.”

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