University of Kansas faculty governance leaders are frustrated with a proposal from administration for a second Integrated Sciences Building that would cost nearly $200 million to construct.
Members of Faculty and University Senate told the University Daily Kansan they did not know about a plan for ISB 2 prior to the publication of the Kansan article. The news about ISB 2, coupled with reports of a $30 million Adams Alumni Center remodel — which is being paid for by private funds — left faculty calling for more transparency from the university’s administration.
“These major capital intensive projects — doesn’t really matter how the university suggests they’re going to be funded — it looks bad and people feel hurt, and people are expressing greater mistrust still of the university’s claim about an inability to do things like provide competitive salaries to faculty and needing to dismiss high profile staff members in the DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] space,” said Faculty Senate President Lua Yuille in an interview with the Kansan. “All of that becomes more suspicious when big capital intensive projects are announced, particularly with no warning to faculty leaders.”
Yuille said she found out about ISB 2 after the publication of a Kansan article about the project. KU Spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson told the Kansan that Chancellor Douglas Girod mentioned ISB 2 in a September University Senate meeting. However, governance leaders said they did not remember the mention and there were no meetings after where the building was discussed, including how much it would cost and how it would be paid for.
ISB 2 would be paid for by university funds, student fees, private gifts and federal funds, according to the capital improvements request submitted to the Kansas Board of Regents. It is unclear what the breakdown of the funds would be.
In a message to campus leaders in September, Vice Chancellor of Research Simon Atkinson said KU is anticipating federal stimulus funds to go toward construction projects. The projects should be considered “shovel-ready”, and KU began planning and designing the new building to “ensure KU is well-positioned to take advantage of these funds, should they materialize,” he said in the message. The message did not name ISB 2.
Chancellor Douglas Girod mentioned ISB 2 in a University Senate meeting on Sept. 10., but governance leaders said their input was not sought, and there was no discussion of how much the building would cost the university.
“Simon Atkinson is reaching out to predominantly the research community to talk about developing a design plan for an Integrated Science Building 2,” Girod said in the meeting, according to the minutes. “We are not in a position to build a building right now, but we hear there may be a significant infrastructure plan next year, and there may be some very substantial federal dollars that become available for shovel-ready projects.”
The building would provide updated research and learning facilities for some sciences, Atkinson said in the message. It would help recruit and retain researchers to KU and improve research that is currently housed in Haworth Hall, he said.
KU is facing budget shortfalls in two fiscal years due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is also weighing an optionto terminate tenured faculty to save money, a temporary KBOR policy implemented in February.
“We’re starting to get some transparency around there [the university’s financial situation], and we’re told that the financial situation is grave enough that, you know, faculty — tenured faculty — as well as other staff, graduate students, they have to have their salaries cut,” Yuille said. “And so, any major capital intensive projects, when you’re told that there is just no money, looks bad.”
“It makes the institution look a little bit callous in terms of valuing the humans that labor to make it function,” she continued.
Despite further transparency about the university’s financial situation, the news of ISB 2 left some faculty members feeling as if KU has more work to do in terms of transparency.
“The heart of a university is its faculty and students with supporting staff to facilitate the smooth running of the organization through administration,” said Purna Bangere, a professor of mathematics and music at KU, in an interview with the Kansan. “The spirit of shared governance says all the respective bodies should have representation in the decision-making process with suitable weights of power given to each of them. This is how democracy works, but this is not how it has been at KU. We hope the present administration will be different.”
KU is facing a $47.6 million shortfall in the current fiscal year, and an estimated $74.6 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year. On April 23, KU’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff DeWitt discussed KU’s five-year budget plan in an hour-long message with Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer and Girod. He discussed how downward trends of state funding and a decrease in enrollment may affect KU’s financial situation moving forward, and where cost-saving measures will need to take place.
In an interview with the Kansan, Atkinson said the construction of ISB 2 would help recruit and retain students and researchers. It would house classrooms and research facilities that are currently in inadequate buildings — mainly Haworth Hall — where research includes finding cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, he said.
The building would break down a barrier that KU’s aging infrastructure places on recruitment and retention of “the top talent that we need to sustain KU’s status as a leading research institution and member of the AAU [Association of American Universities],” Atkinson said in his message to campus leaders in September.
ISB 2 may be a long-term project as KU works toward accumulating necessary funds to construct the building, Atkinson said.
“In the meantime, we have to make the best of the space that we’ve got, and so that means trying to keep Haworth in reasonable shape so that it’s a decent environment to do science and to learn science,” Atkinson said. “But it does put us at a competitive disadvantage when our facilities aren’t up to snuff.”
KU was forced to eliminate some programs and departments and implement large-scale furloughs and layoffs because of the current budget shortfall, Girod said in a message to campus in January. In February, KU announced it would discontinue the Humanities and Visual Art Education degrees and eliminate the Humanities Department to save money. The degrees were identified as low-enrollment programs.
“In order to attract students, you need the best facilities and resources available, however the pandemic isn't over and it definitely won’t be over this year,” said Graduate Student Body Vice President Hollie Hall, who lost her teaching job in the Humanities Department when the pandemic first started. “It just doesn’t seem the right time to me to bring up these different things like the new ISB building, the new visitors center, regardless of how they’re funded, it just seems a bit out of touch with students, staff and faculty to be honest.”
University Senate President Sanjay Mishra said university governance was not included in the decision to construct a second ISB.
“I felt let down,” Mishra said. “All this semester, we have tried to build trust and transparency in this system, and this was another illustration of disregard for the community, where the first public mention of it [ISB 2] was through the article.”
Girod’s mention of ISB 2 in September was at the first University Senate meeting of the academic year. Conversation at the meeting centered around KU’s approach to COVID-19 testing, social distance practices for the semester, salary cuts and how KU would work to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus on campus — ISB 2’s tentative plan was briefly mentioned in the midst of the governance meeting, according to the meeting minutes.
The construction of ISB 2 is dependent upon KBOR’s approval of KU’s capital improvements request. However, if it is approved, Mishra said moving forward KU will need to think of the costs that will incur for basic upkeep of the building and how it may affect members of the KU community.
“If you think about the university setup, the faculty, staff and students are more permanent community members of the university. Administrators come and go,” Mishra said in an interview with the Kansan. “Oftentimes, for their not-so-good decisions, we are left to clean up or pick up after them.”
In 2018, former Provost Carl Lejuez announced an emergency university-wide $20 million budget cut, after a drop in international enrollment left KU unable to pay off the cost of the Central District construction, which included the first ISB.
“If the administration makes a decision and it comes out right, they are rewarded for it. If they admit the decision doesn’t come out right, we are left with the baggage,” Mishra said.
OneKU Faculty, a group of faculty at KU formed in summer 2020 to advocate for the university to prioritize public health, science, and community safety in their campus reopening plan according to its website, said it was “appalled” by the news of KU looking to build a second ISB.
“It’s time for the upper administration to abandon their rhetoric about fiscal emergencies and budget crises,” OneKU said in a statement to the Kansan. “With the recent hire of a new athletic director, the announcement of plans to build a new KU ‘Welcome Center,’ the revelations that KU Endowment has $137 [million] in unencumbered funds, and today’s news of the request to KBOR, we see clearly that this is about what they value, not what we can afford.”