Amid a tense academic year between administrators and the general University of Kansas community, KU’s Faculty Senate discussed potentially moving forward with a no-confidence vote in the university’s chancellor and provost to convey a need for more transparency Thursday evening.
Faculty Senate members felt compelled to discuss pursuing a no-confidence vote after KU’s leaders did not openly reject a policy from the Kansas Board of Regents allowing universities to terminate tenured faculty to alleviate financial shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All other Kansas universities are not implementing the policy.
Faculty also listed changes to KU’s now-named Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging and a lack of inclusion of KU governance in important policy decisions.
“I don’t know how to communicate with this administration that they should talk to faculty governance,” said John Poggio, a faculty senator and professor in educational psychology. “And they haven’t done that.”
The conversation is expected to continue in the coming weeks. Faculty senators were mixed on Thursday whether to pursue the course of a no-confidence vote. Some felt that trust had been so deeply eroded in administrators, while others were concerned pursuing the vote would damage relationships further between administrators and faculty governance.
No-confidence votes are not established procedure in Faculty Senate Rules and Regulations. Faculty Senate President Lua Yuille said pursuing the no-confidence vote would be “a strong symbolic statement.”
Yuille began the meeting by gaging unofficially where members of the Faculty Senate body stood on potentially pursuing a no-confidence vote in Chancellor Douglas Girod and Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer.
In an informal Zoom poll, five of the 27 faculty senate members who voted said they would be ready to issue a no-confidence vote in Girod if they voted that day, Yuille said.
In the vote regarding Bichelmeyer, 15% of the voting body said they would be ready to issue a no-confidence vote in the provost’s leadership, Yuille said.
Yuille opened a discussion with the Faculty Senate body around the topic.
Allard Jongman, a linguistics professor, said unrest and dissatisfaction has grown among faculty, and students. It was heightened amid the new KBOR policy, he said.
“The two year suspension of tenure, as outlined in the KBOR policy, cuts through the heart of what a University is all about,” Jongman said. “It removes academic freedom, the freedom to pursue, develop and express ideas, especially those that may run counter to current opinion.”
Jongman added that KU being the only Kansas university to accept the policy without consulting the Faculty Senate rescinded their ability to question administrative actions.
“By not rejecting the policy, our administration here at KU indicates that academic freedom is not a priority and is dispensable, ” Jongman said. “It is clear that trust in confidence in KU’s leaders is at a low, as is faculty, staff and student morale.”
Forrest Pierce, a professor in the music department, shares many of the same frustrations of his colleagues, but did not feel the no-confidence vote would change anything.
“For all my disagreements with decisions made by the administration, I am confident that even those paths I would not take myself are being chosen out of skill and good intention,” Pierce said. “It seems like an extraordinary difficult situation, that calls for tact above all, careful transparent processes and an understanding that no one wants to be in this position of financial challenge and sudden policy shifts.”
Hossein Saiedian, a professor in the electrical engineering and computer science department, warned that before the governing body moved forward with the vote, they should come up with a constructive alternative to the pressing issues with current administrators.
“We do not want to burn all of the bridges that we have with the administration,” Saiedian said. “Just imagine that for example, we do vote for no confidence, and let’s say that the provost would pack up and leave — then what?”
Faculty Senate will pick up the discussion again during their next meeting, scheduled for April 8.