KU’s Faculty Senate votes to invite chancellor, provost to hold town hall meetings

photo by: Screenshot // University of Kansas Faculty Senate meeting

The University's Faculty Senate met on March 11 and continued its discussion of no-confidence in the provost and chancellor.

The University of Kansas’ Faculty Senate continued its discussion of no confidence in the chancellor and provost in its Thursday afternoon meeting, ultimately voting to invite the leaders to hold two town halls related to the university’s budget crisis and other faculty concerns.

The discussion of no confidence, which began during the Faculty Senate’s last meeting on Feb. 25, arose from growing frustrations about the university’s top administrators, Chancellor Douglas Girod and Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer.

John Poggio, a professor of educational psychology and research, made the motion for the town halls. Like many members of the Faculty Senate, Poggio had discussed a potential vote of no confidence with his colleagues following the Faculty Senate meeting on Feb. 25. Some of his colleagues were in support, some were opposed, and many, he said, felt they did not know enough to make an informed decision.

“At such a meeting, we can come to understand what our issues are, what the administration’s issues are and how they intend to resolve them,” Poggio said. “At that point, if we choose to go forward with the no confidence vote, fine. But until we have the information, I think we move for a town hall meeting.”

Poggio initially moved for one town hall meeting prior to April 2, which would be hosted in the evening for two to three hours. He suggested that the town hall could involve a presentation from the provost, the chancellor, or preferably both. Following the presentation, Bichelmeyer or Girod could then listen to and respond to concerns and questions voiced by the faculty.

Citing concerns that an evening meeting might be difficult for faculty members with children to attend, Melanie DeRousse, a clinical associate professor in the School of Law, suggested inviting the administrators to host two town hall meetings, one in the evening and one sometime between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The Faculty Senate ultimately unanimously approved the amended motion to invite the chancellor and provost to host two town hall events prior to April 2.

As the Journal-World has reported, KU is the only Regents university to consider using a temporary policy that gives university CEOs more power to suspend, dismiss or terminate employees — including tenured faculty members — in light of the financial crisis many universities face. More than 1,040 KU faculty and staff members have signed a statement denouncing the policy.

In addition to the policy, faculty members have also been expressing concerns about a lack of transparency, communication and consultation prior to changes, especially in regard to the restructuring of KU’s Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.

“Video clips are not good enough,” said Allard Jongman, a professor of linguistics, referring to the chancellor’s weekly video updates.

Jongman expressed his frustration early in the meeting about the lack of communication that has occurred between faculty and administration. He mentioned KU administrators’ decision not to reject the termination policy, administrators’ refusal to have meaningful interactions with faculty, staff and students, and budget cuts that will force departments to cut graduate student funding.

“Over the past weeks, we have witnessed a series of catastrophic administrative decisions. No better than the decisions in the past that have put us in this position. But what makes those decisions even worse is the fact that neither the chancellor nor the provost have deemed it worth their while to engage with us,” he said. “If they plan to implement changes that will have such a profound impact on students, staff, faculty and the university at large, they must be prepared to face their constituents and justify their decisions.”

During the meeting, other faculty members suggested that a vote of no confidence be brought to the faculty as a whole, that a method other than a binary yes-or-no vote be used, or that, as an intermediate step, a resolution be issued laying out the severity of the crisis of trust. Though the vote to invite the administrators to town hall meetings was unanimous, some members said they thought such meetings might not be helpful or amount to anything.

Regardless of whether the chancellor and provost respond to the Faculty Senate’s request for town hall meetings, the University Senate will have the opportunity to speak to both administrators soon. Bichelmeyer will appear at the University Senate meeting on March 25, and Girod will appear at the University Senate meeting on April 8.

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