KU chancellor, provost say tenure is of utmost importance during discussion of controversial Regents policy

photo by: Screenshot // Faculty Senate Town Hall Meeting

University of Kansas chancellor Douglas Girod and provost Barbara Bichelmeyer joined members of KU's Faculty Senate for a town hall meeting on March 31.

University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod emphasized the importance of tenure at a town hall meeting Wednesday afternoon and said a Kansas Board of Regents policy that would temporarily suspend tenure protections would only be used as a last resort.

Girod and Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer responded to a series of questions about the controversial policy during the virtual town hall, which was hosted by KU’s Faculty Senate.

When asked how they would rate the importance of tenure on KU’s status as a research institution on a scale from one to 10, both top administrators gave it a 10. Girod said tenure was an important aspect of an Association of American Universities (AAU) institution, that it helped protect academic freedom, and that it affected the ability to attract and retain talented faculty members.

“All of those are fundamental to who we are as an institution,” Girod said. “But I’m also the Regents-appointed steward at this moment in time at this institution. And so they expect of me to present them with models of sustainability and success to go through these challenges, in particular exacerbated at the moment by the pandemic. And they view this as a tool that they put out there for that.”

As the Journal-World has reported, the controversial policy adopted by the Kansas Board of Regents gives university CEOs more power to suspend, dismiss or terminate employees — including tenured faculty members — in light of the financial crisis many universities face. All five of Kansas’ other state universities have said they will not use the policy, which has led some KU faculty members to ask whether the idea originated from KU.

During a series of questions about the policy, Girod said KU did not ask the Regents to create the policy, and that he first heard about the policy from the Regents. Girod said KU was asked for input on the language of the policy, and that KU got the Regents to put an expiration date on it. He said KU wanted an earlier expiration date than the Dec. 31, 2022, date that’s currently on the policy.

KU has not yet said whether it will implement the policy. Most recently, KU asked for an extension on its decision about whether to submit a framework for using the policy. KU has until July 1 to decide.

When asked whether anything positive had come from KU not joining the other state universities in rejecting the policy, Girod said he had heard “grumblings” that some of the other universities might be “changing their tune.” He said KU did not want to be dishonest or misrepresent its intentions.

Girod also said a large reason for KU’s budget deficit was a lack of support from the state. He said the perception of KU in Topeka was that the university wasn’t willing to make hard choices such as firing employees. When he argues for more resources, Girod said he’s met with comments about how KU’s budget keeps getting cut, but nobody loses their jobs — “None of that’s true, by the way,” he said.

As the Journal-World reported, Gov. Laura Kelly’s budget recommendations included a $7.6 million cut at the Lawrence campus. The university’s budget problems have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and KU said in January that it is facing an expected budget shortfall of $74.6 million.

“People should feel betrayed because frankly I think our state has betrayed us in not pulling their part and creating a lot of this challenge,” Girod said. “I share that with them on a regular basis, that this is a partnership and we have a partner who’s letting us down.”

The discussion of the Regents policy only took up a portion of Wednesday’s meeting, which also covered topics such as community life and campus climate, performance and productivity and program and departmental decision-making. Topics ranged from recent changes within the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging to improving campus morale to proposed budget cuts within departments. Bichelmeyer said more information about many of those topics would come out when the university released its new strategic plan. She also suggested that should another town hall meeting occur, it would be beneficial to invite KU’s new chief financial officer, Jeff DeWitt.

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