Regents approve two changes to controversial tenure policy; changes focused on transparency, shared governance

photo by: Screenshot // Kansas Board of Regents

The Kansas Board of Regents met on April 14, 2021 and approved two changes to its temporary COVID-19 policy.

The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday did not back away from a policy that temporarily would make it easier for the University of Kansas to dismiss tenured faculty due to budget woes. But the board did add a couple of new provisions aimed at increasing transparency with the controversial process.

During their board meeting on Wednesday, the Regents heard two recommended changes, which were developed by a workgroup tasked with reviewing the board’s current policy. The workgroup was created at the request of the Council of Faculty Senate Presidents.

Of the two changes approved Wednesday, one is that elected representatives of the university’s faculty, staff and student government groups must be given an opportunity “to provide input, comments and recommendations on the draft framework prior to the university provost’s endorsement and chief executive officer’s adoption and submission of the framework to the Board for approval.”

The second change is that before the framework is implemented on a campus, the university CEO must communicate to the campus community and the Board of Regents the rationale for adopting the policy instead of using existing suspension, dismissal or termination policies.

As the Journal-World has reported, the temporary policy, which is set to expire Dec. 31, 2022, would give all state universities more power to suspend, dismiss or terminate employees — including tenured faculty — in light of the financial crisis many universities face because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In February, the Kansas Board of Regents approved a request from the University of Kansas to give the university until July 1 to decide whether it would submit a framework under which it could pursue the policy. KU is the only Regents university that has said it would consider the policy.

The two changes passed with a vote of nine to one. Regent Mark Hutton voted against the changes. He said he felt they were significant and that the vote should be put off until next month’s meeting so the Regents could have more time to consider.

In the discussion of the changes, Regent Jon Rolph, who was in the workgroup, said the spirit of the changes revolved around transparency. Regents President and CEO Blake Flanders, who was also in the workgroup with Rolph, said he did not want people to think that because there was a workgroup, there was a flaw in the policy. He said the changes made by the workgroup would simply ensure how the process for the policy would proceed. Flanders also said he thought it was uninformed to say that KU had not been transparent.

“I don’t know how the University of Kansas could be more transparent about the budget than they have been,” he said.

Other members of the workgroup included administrators — such as KU Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer and Chari Young, associate vice chancellor and chief human resource officer at the University of Kansas Medical Center — two student representatives from Wichita State University and Fort Hays State University, and Aleksander Sternfeld-Dunn, a faculty representative and member of the Council of Faculty Senate Presidents.

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