Regents Give University Administrators More Power

Leaders of six state universities in Kansas will have more flexibility in deciding to suspend or fire employees, including tenured faculty, under a temporary policy approved by the Kansas Board of Regents.

The regents said that the new policy, which will be in effect until Dec. 31, 2022, was necessary because of costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic, a reduction in state funding and declining enrollment.

Last week, Governor Laura Kelly released a budget that included a $27 million cut for higher education.

The board gave CEOs of the universities 45 days to create frameworks they would use to determine whether to suspend, dismiss or fire employees.

The frameworks could include factors such as performance evaluations, productivity, low enrollment or reduction in revenues for departments and schools, The Lawrence Journal-World reported.

Aleksander Sternfeld-Dunn, a Wichita State University associate professor representing the Council of Faculty Senate Presidents, told the regents the new policy essentially suspends tenure and will damage faculty morale, “which is already struggling under the pressures of teaching during the pandemic.”

“We also believe it will open up universities to potential abuses of power and could lead to numerous lawsuits around discrimination and harassment,” he said. “We believe that the policy as stated is really using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and we think there are far more positive ways to go about managing financial difficulties.”

Under the policy, an employee will have the right to appeal a decision by a CEO affecting their employment, with the burden of proof on the employee.

After the CEO responds to the appeal, the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings would have a hearing and make a final decision.

The board would reverse a CEO’s decision only if it was inconsistent with the university’s decision-making framework, was the result of bias or discrimination or was “otherwise unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious.”