KU Faculty and Staff Say No to KBOR Policy

sign our open letter (for KU faculty and staff) or solidarity statement (all other supporters)

All eyes in higher education are on Kansas, as the Board of Regents has unilaterally suspended tenure protections and long-established procedures of shared governance, transparency, and due process in order to ease the termination of faculty and staff. This extreme policy circumvents professional standards and violates our commitments as a member institution of the American Association of Universities (AAU). Procedures already exist to make decisions according to financial exigency as part of shared governance. The regents now allow administrators to bypass the established process and eliminate faculty’s structural role in it. The leadership at our fellow Regents Universities in Kansas quickly recognized that this move is at odds with our profession, and have stated that they will not implement it. Only at KU has our Chancellor not committed to shared governance and our professional integrity by refusing to exercise the policy.

KBOR’s policy blatantly violates two of the three core Academic Principles of the AAU– those pertaining to Shared Governance and Academic Freedom. Such actions place KU at grave risk of expulsion from this prestigious professional organization, which would inevitably impede the recruitment and retention of faculty and the securing of research funds, ultimately eroding the value of all degrees from the University of Kansas.

 

The AAU principles reflect widely held professional standards, laid out in foundational statements from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The 1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure holds that financial exigency must be “demonstrably bona fide” in order to justify termination, and must be considered by a faculty committee as well as the governing board. The AAUP standard does not provide for arbitrary administrative power over such decisions. The 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities calls for “joint planning and effort” among its constituents, in which faculty are to hold primary responsibility over matters of faculty status, including dismissal. In order to have a voice in institutional planning, faculty must be fully briefed on the specific budgetary matters in play. The regents’ policy allows administrators to make dismissals without formally declaring financial exigency. This is clearly out of step with the AAUP standard that university executives work “within the concept of tenure,” and “necessarily utilize the judgments of faculty” when addressing institutional challenges.

 

These standards speak to the role of the faculty, but to bypass them affects the entire campus. The new policy gives a blank check to the chancellor to make sweeping changes. The regents have asked us to trust the chancellor in a time of crisis, but our financial issues predate the pandemic. This recent experience suggests that accountability is in order. To annul shared governance and transparency instead degrades the working conditions of the entire university and the learning conditions for all of our students. 

 

The statements of core values and standard practices were composed during moments of extraordinary societal upheaval and unrest—during the worst economic depression and the deadliest world war—crises even greater than our current one. The hasty adoption of this policy strays from these long-standing professional standards. We agree with our representatives in the KU Faculty Senate, and the majority of the University’s department chairs, who find the regents’ action to be unprecedented and devastating to our professional standing as an institution.

 

Even as the regents affirm the value of faculty involvement in facing our grave financial situation, the new policy specifically neutralizes the form that such involvement already takes. Administrators at our fellow state institutions have shown leadership in recognizing the risk of grave consequences posed by unilateral action and have declined to exercise it. As KU stands alone in the state, and as an outlier nationally in pursuing the suspension of tenure and shared governance, it will become a much smaller and less prominent university. We refuse the inevitability of this, appealing to decades-old values of transparency, accountability, and shared governance in US higher education.

 

As faculty and staff at the University of Kansas, we demand that Chancellor Girod:

 

1. Join with his colleagues at the other Kansas Regents Universities in declining to pursue the new KBOR policy on suspension, termination, and dismissal; and 

 

2. Recommit in word and action to existing KU policies pertaining to shared governance, especially in matters of tenure, dismissal and financial transparency, as well as the long-established national standards that are their basis.