American Association of University Professors condemns Kansas Regents policy as evisceration of tenure, academic freedom

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

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

The American Association of University Professors is blasting a new Kansas Board of Regents policy that it says would gut tenure at universities.

The policy, which the Regents approved on Jan. 20 and which would be in place for two years, gives university leaders more power to suspend, dismiss or terminate employees — including tenured faculty members — in light of the financial crisis many universities face.

In a letter to the president of its Kansas conference on Friday, a program officer within the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance expressed disappointment that KU was considering the policy.

“While encouraged by news that five of the six state institutions do not plan to institute the regents’ policy, we are dismayed to hear that the administration of the University of Kansas does plan to do so,” Mark Criley, the program officer, wrote. “If the KU administration institutes the policy, it will eviscerate tenure at the institution and, along with it, the academic freedom and shared governance tenure is meant to protect.”

The AAUP is a nonprofit membership association of faculty and other academic professionals that was founded in 1915. The group’s 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” which was jointly formulated with the Association of American Colleges and Universities, is the document from which the understanding of academic freedom and tenure in American higher education derives, Criley wrote.

As the Journal-World reported, KU’s provost said in a Jan. 26 campus message that although KU hopes it will not have to use the policy, it will build a framework for it to give the university the option to use it. Following the Regents’ approval of the policy on Jan. 20, university CEOs have 45 days to present a framework to the board that would be used for any suspensions, dismissals or terminations for a two-year period.

Janett Naylor-Tincknell, president of the Kansas Conference of the AAUP, said she asked the AAUP to respond to this policy because of its potential long-term effects.

“While the policy is ‘temporary,’ the impact of this policy is not,” she wrote in an email to the Journal-World. “Tenure, academic freedom, and shared governance are directly violated by this unilateral, draconian policy.”

Naylor-Tincknell, who is a professor of psychology at Fort Hays State University, also said the policy could lead to KU being added to the AAUP’s list of censured administrations. There are currently 58 administrations placed under censure from the AAUP’s findings that conditions for academic freedom and tenure were unsatisfactory at that college or university. Naylor-Tincknell said this could have financial implications in terms of student enrollment, donors and community support.

“So in essence, this policy that is intended to save money could cost so much more,” she wrote.

In his letter, Criley lists ways the new Regents policy would diverge from the AAUP’s “Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure.” These regulations are derived from the procedural standards in the 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.”

The Regents policy would allow terminations of tenured faculty members without the university first having to declare financial exigency. This leads to a number of issues within the AAUP’s regulations. Terminating employees, including tenured faculty, is permitted when universities declare financial exigency, according to AAUP regulations, but there are numerous policies in place for that procedure.

For example, faculty members are meant to participate in the process of declaring financial exigency, according to AAUP regulations. In the case of financial exigency, the regulations also state that faculty members must be afforded the right to a hearing prior to termination before an elected faculty body. In that hearing, the affected employee may contest the existence of financial exigency with the burden of proof resting on the administration.

Criley wrote that the Regents’ policy is “woefully deficient” relative to these hearing standards.

“It explicitly forbids affected faculty members access to their universities’ existing hearing procedures to contest the terminations of their appointments,” he wrote. “In fact, it allows no recourse for a faculty member whose appointment is terminated other than the right to file an appeal with the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings, whose members are administrative judges, not faculty members.”

Under the Regents policy, the burden of proof is on the employee.

“The COVID exception policy thus deprives affected faculty members of crucial academic due-process rights that are the sine qua non of tenure and academic freedom,” he wrote. “The AAUP would accordingly regard any terminations effected without these protections as an attack on tenure requiring appropriate action on our part.”

Criley also noted that the Regents policy does not guarantee severance rights, prioritize tenured positions or require the university to try to find other positions within the institution for faculty members at risk of termination.

In an email to the Journal-World, Criley said a series of events could lead to the AAUP censuring KU’s administration.

If KU were to terminate faculty members under the new policy, the AAUP could assist affected faculty members seeking assistance.

“If, in assisting these complainants, the AAUP’s staff found credible evidence of serious departures from the Association-supported standards outlined in the advisory letter, the staff would open a case at the University of Kansas — i.e., formally convey the Association’s concerns to the administration,” Criley wrote in an email to the Journal-World. “In any subsequent dialog with the KU administration, the staff would work with administrative officers to resolve the situation in a manner that honors AAUP-recommended principles and standards.”

If attempts to achieve a resolution failed, the executive director could authorize an investigation at KU. Criley wrote that investigations almost always result in censure.

When asked whether KU wished to respond to the AAUP letter or whether the university was concerned about the possibility of being censured, spokesperson Joe Monaco directed the Journal-World to the provost’s Jan. 26 memo about the policy, in which it was stated that KU hoped to never have to use the policy.

KU’s chancellor, Douglas Girod, also mentioned the Regents policy in a message on Monday welcoming students back to campus. He said he, the provost and the executive vice chancellor would “continue to engage with faculty and staff to determine if and how this policy might help us address our budget shortfall and prioritize the level of excellence demanded of an Association of American Universities institution.”

As of Monday afternoon, 972 KU faculty and staff members and 6,860 organizations and individuals signed statements calling on the university not to pursue the policy.


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