Resolution to Restore Shared Governance at KU


 

Resolution to Restore Shared Governance at KU

University Leadership has repeatedly violated the principles of shared university governance. During the pandemic and the fiscal crisis that preceded it, decisions have been made for the University community and not with us. We have had our working conditions altered and offices restructured without consultation, through unexpected public announcements. We have seen DEI efforts on campus regress dramatically after the restructuring last year, as faculty, students, and staff of color leave. We have been forced into in-person work and teaching in a pandemic through mandates, with no dialogue, despite many of us having vulnerable or unvaccinated family members. We have seen carefully reasoned recommendations of the Faculty Rights Board overturned without prior consultation or communication with governance leaders. We have seen communications from governance to constituents blocked. Most recently, after years of pushing in person teaching, a centralized, online, curriculum-based initiative was announced, with potential ramifications on the working conditions of many, once again without consultation with governance or other stakeholders. Often the people most affected by drastic administrative moves have had the least opportunity to influence them.

In order to illustrate the failure of University leadership to work cooperatively with university governance, we draw upon the example of the recent program discontinuance procedures. In October 2020, at the request of KBOR, the Provost's Office began a process of evaluating programs deemed “under-enrolled” due to having fewer than 25 junior/senior majors. There was no announcement to the university community, which only learned of this process from press coverage. However, there were communications to external stakeholders: in February 2021, Provost Bichelmeyer informed KBOR of the discontinuation recommendations eventually presented to governance. The report makes no reference to processes laid out in USRR Article VIII on program discontinuance, which requires the review of program discontinuation requests by the University Senate and its committees. This policy reflects the University’s commitment to principles established by the AAUP, including that responsibility for the curriculum belongs with the faculty. In light of the external report, which makes no mention of Article VIII, and in the absence of any broader university communications about these matters, many affected students, staff, and faculty reasonably assumed that the discontinuation proposals were settled last year without governance input. 

Six months after telling KBOR that these programs would be discontinued, the Provost’s Office delivered requests to discontinue 42 academic programs to governance in early Fall 2021. The Academic Policies and Procedures Committee of the University Senate convened hearings on each of the programs, soliciting extensive written and oral testimony. AP&P delivered its recommendations to discontinue 28 of the 42 programs considered and to allow the remaining 14 programs to continue. The recommendations were informed by many factors, including poor communication with, and involvement of, affected parties; lack of evidence that discontinuation was in the best academic interests of the university; lack of adequate information demonstrating the financial effects of program discontinuation; and the absence of proper provisions for the faculty, students, and curriculum displaced by closures, as required by USRR Article VIII 8.2.5.

The closure of programs alters the substance of our university. Although sometimes justified by academic considerations and the natural evolution of academic work, program discontinuation can also diminish opportunities for students and remove material supports for the work of faculty and staff. The processes of Article VIII may, on the surface, appear lengthy, but they are intentionally so. Program discontinuation is a serious decision that requires deliberation and input from a diverse set of stakeholders; it should not be a reaction to financial or political pressures. The processes of shared governance exist to make informed decisions possible – in this case and in other cases. 

On 12/2/2021 the University Senate overwhelmingly voted to endorse the AP&P recommendations. Per policy, the University Senate Recommendations were then submitted to the Provost’s Office, where the requests originated. The Provost ultimately chose to discontinue all of the programs (with two discontinuations delayed until May 2022), consistent with her statement to KBOR in February 2021 and in opposition to the recommendations of the University Senate. By contrast, the AP&P committee, an independent body of faculty, staff, students, who should have decision-making power over the curriculum, accepted many of the administration’s recommendations. A process where requests are made and adjudicated by the same entity, with an outcome that matches their stated plan to the Board of Regents, cannot be a shared governance process. 

In the course of this process, many of you have asked governance representatives: “How much weight do the recommendations of the AP&P hold?” The answer is that these recommendations bear as much weight as the weight of shared governance at KU. From these events we conclude that shared governance is not functioning properly at the University of Kansas. 

Contrary to established policy, the decision to close programs was made prior to any deliberative process involving the elected representatives of the University. The process required by policy to evaluate requests for program discontinuance went forward with the good faith of its participants, but the decisions were settled already, presented to the Kansas Board of Regents already, and nothing would ultimately be changed by the governance review. The proper process dictated by policy amounted to a waste of extensive time and effort on the part of elected members of governance. The process was not in keeping with AAUP standards of shared governance. 

As the work of AP&P and the University Senate showed, members of the University community are capable of supporting difficult decisions when they are consensus-based decisions, when we are involved in making them and know that our perspectives have been heard and considered. Faith in shared governance is undermined when campus leaders act unilaterally, without engaging stakeholders, and in a manner that is inconsistent with campus policies and procedures. Seemingly efficient in the short term, disregard for shared governance processes is causing long-term harm to our university. 

As an AAU member and flagship university in the state of Kansas, KU must be a leading light in the advancement of democracy in our society, and democracy should be practiced within and furthered outside by instilling its principles in our students. Unshared governance creates a toxic, undemocratic institutional environment pervaded by insecurity, confusion, fear, lack of trust, and demoralization. This is the current state of our university.

KU is as strong as its people. To serve its students and to serve our broader communities, KU needs to harness the talents of all of its people. Faculty, staff, and students are strengthened when we are engaged and feel a sense of agency and ownership over the direction and work of the university. This university cannot rise without us, and we are being left behind at every turn. 

To repair relationships with faculty, staff, and students who are represented by the University Senate and who constitute the University itself, we call upon the Chancellor to take immediate action to restore shared governance at KU. 

  • A starting step toward this goal would be for the Chancellor to work in conjunction with faculty/staff/student governance to craft a plan for the creation of a task force, equally inclusive of students, staff, and faculty, to propose concrete action steps for the restoration of shared governance, including: 
  • An evaluation of decision-making processes at the university and whether these are in compliance with longstanding university policies and practices.
  • Steps to move away from the top-down, centralized decision-making model of the last two years.
  • Development of a comprehensive communication strategy, in partnership with stakeholders, to assist the practices of shared governance and to better serve stakeholders. 

 

Approved by the University Senate Executive Committee on February 15, 2022, to forward to University Senate.
Amended and Approved by University Senate, March 3, 2022