KU provost fields questions from University Senate, says using controversial Regents policy on tenure would be a ‘last resort’
photo by: Screenshot / University of Kansas University Senate Meeting
For months, University of Kansas faculty and staff have voiced their displeasure regarding a Kansas Board of Regents policy that would temporarily eliminate faculty tenure protection at universities. And on Thursday afternoon, they asked KU provost Barbara Bichelmeyer why KU was the only Regents university that had not rejected the policy.
At a University Senate meeting, Bichelmeyer said she was “absolutely sure” her answer would not be “particularly satisfying” to those participating in the conversation. She appeared before the University Senate to field questions from staff, faculty and student representatives.
Bichelmeyer said using the KBOR policy “will be the absolutely last resort” and that as each week goes by, she’s more hopeful that the policy will not have to be implemented. She also stressed the importance of the state budget on the outcome of KU’s financial stability.
“I will simply say there are those in Topeka who are very unhappy with this institution and with where we are and with our activities,” she said. Bichelmeyer specifically stated that the Board of Regents has said it is particularly difficult to support KU “when they haven’t seen us do hard work.” She also mentioned Gov. Laura Kelly.
“The governor herself has called out KU for her sense that we are not as effective and efficient as we can be in meeting the state needs,” Bichelmeyer said. “So we are trying very hard to make sure our budget cuts aren’t any more than they already may be — and remember, we have a governor who proposed a cut that is the single largest cut in dollar value ever to this institution and a legislature who’s even less supportive of higher education than she is. So we are working our way through.”
As the Journal-World has reported, Kelly’s budget recommendations include a 5.3% cut to KU’s base appropriation. If those recommendations were approved by the Legislature, the university’s state funding would fall by $13.6 million — $7.6 million at the Lawrence campus and $6 million at the medical center. In a campus message, chancellor Douglas Girod said that as a percentage, it would be the largest cut to KU since 2010, and as a dollar amount it would be the largest cut in KU history.
At the University Senate meeting, Bichelmeyer said she was glad that KU’s new chief financial officer, Jeff DeWitt, had started his role, and she encouraged the University Senate to invite him to one of its meetings. Bichelmeyer said that KU’s current financial problems started prior to the pandemic, and that the pandemic only heightened the crisis.
Also during the meeting, PhD candidate and graduate student body vice president Hollie Hall asked how the university would work to make sure graduate students could stay at KU and finish their degrees. Members and supporters of the union representing graduate teaching assistants recently held a protest related to the budget cuts, which they believe could result in the loss of up to 40% of GTA positions.
Bichelmeyer said GTA positions were among the things she had been watching closely and that KU was looking at how it could support graduate students.
Addison Henson, a KU junior and chief of staff of the Student Senate, asked what KU’s plans were to address mental health concerns as it pivoted toward a more in-person semester in the fall.
Bichelmeyer said she understood that both physical and mental health would be of concern as students return to campus next fall, and that a holistic approach would be needed. She said KU was currently working on building a proposal for a donor who asked the university to develop plans for ramping up mental health and wellness programming on campus.
In response to a faculty member’s question about whether the university considered faculty and staff important to the university’s mission to retain students, Bichelmeyer said “absolutely.”
Bichelmeyer spoke with the University Senate for about 50 minutes on Thursday afternoon, but KU faculty and staff will have additional opportunities to question her and the chancellor during a town hall meeting next week. Two weeks ago, KU’s Faculty Senate voted to invite the chancellor and provost to host town hall meetings. A town hall meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday, March 31, from 3 to 5 p.m. The chancellor and provost will both be in attendance, according to Faculty Senate president Lua Yuille.