- A temporary policy approved by the Kansas Board of Regents is catching flak over concerns it makes it easier for its six state universities to fire tenured faculty.
- The decision gives the universities an optional alternative process for suspending, dismissing, or terminating employees that them to declare financial exigency. In making the decision, the board cited the need for flexibility to address steep pandemic-related budget cuts.
- Many and positions in response to massive revenue losses from the pandemic, but some fear shared-governance processes are getting overlooked.
Any university that chooses to use the new policy has 45 days from its adoption by thewould make decisions under its terms. The policy expires in December 2022. Those decisions could be based on factors including performance evaluations, teaching and research productivity, revenue reductions, or low enrollment, according to a draft version of the policy . Kansas’s six state universities are bracing for in budget cuts. They’re not alone. Public and across the country are responding to pandemic-related revenue losses with steep budget reductions, in some cases gutting programs and departments.
Some observers, however, worry schools are using the losses as justification for more significantto address the pandemic. Kansas’s new policy highlights a institutions will end protections for tenured faculty. According to the American Association of University Professors, financial difficulty is one of three conditions administrators can lay off tenured faculty under. The others are for cause or because a program is being discontinued for educational by faculty.
“We set the threshold at exigency to protect the institution of tenure,” said Mark Criley, program officer in the Department of academic freedom, tenure, and. He continued that schools that reach this point indicate their financial woes are so severe that their academic integrity has been compromised and cannot be righted by less-drastic means. AAUP policy calls for schools making decisions about cuts under necessity to give a critical role in the deliberations to a faculty . But Criley said the Kansas policy “seems to allow for terminations and suspensions to happen without this kind of faculty involvement.” Schools may have other reasons for avoiding distress, such as restrictions from accreditors, .
AAUP isover how pandemic-induced threats to shared governance could be impacting tenure and academic freedom. Julie Miller, the regents’ general counsel, said during Wednesday that Kansas’s policy was “just one piece in a puzzle” and “a first step,” emphasizing that schools need to determine how they’d use the policy and submit that proposal to the board for approval.
Demetri Morgan, aprofessor at Loyola University Chicago, is wary of such language. Although the administration is presenting the option as one more tool to help universities address the anticipated budget cuts, he said, it could be used to fire faculty with unpopular research agendas or who have been critical of the administration.
Morgan, who studies higher education governing boards, notes thatin policymaking rather than just regulation. “We’re seeing that same thing here, where they are to create policy opportunities that are shaping how institutions are acting,” he said, noting that Kansas’s regents have a “pretty active role” in the matters of their schools. He added that reversing such policies can be challenging, citing in Wisconsin a few years ago after they were stripped from state law.