KU reverses course, no longer contemplating use of faculty-dismissal policy to fix budget
Board of Regents policy grants universities broader power to thin payroll
Gov. Laura Kelly, right, and University of Kansas chancellor Doug Girod, chat during a 2021 groundbreaking ceremony. The politics of higher education resulted in a $37.5 million budget increase for state universities, but a freeze on tuition rates. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — The chancellor of the University of Kansas said Thursday influx of federal relief funding to higher education allowed tabling of plans for possible use of a Kansas Board of Regents policy lowering barriers to dismissal of tenured faculty in response to budget problems.
Doug Girod, chancellor of KU’s main campus in Lawrence and the Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, said financial uncertainties in January during the pandemic prompted KU to consider reliance on the board’s emergency policy. Federal COVID-19 relief funding has been “hugely helpful” as KU worked to make $33 million in budget reductions during the current fiscal year, Girod said.
“At this point,” the chancellor said, “we really do not feel that we’re going to need to use this temporary policy in Lawrence or at the medical center.”
KU faculty protested adoption by the Board of Regents of the policy making it less onerous for the public universities to suspend or fire employees, including faculty with tenure rights designed to promote academic freedom. None of the five other state university presidents in Kansas publicly declared interest in implementing the policy.
Girod said KU would proceed with $26 million in spending reductions in the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1. More of the future adjustments will be permanent rather than one-year savings leaned on during the current fiscal year, he said.
He said internal KU policy would be amended in collaboration with faculty and staff to prepare for budget overhauls during the next two or three years.
“We think we can do that responsibly and still continue our shared principles of tenure and academic freedom,” Girod said.
On Wednesday, the Board of Regents voted to freeze tuition rates for Kansas resident students at five of six universities in the state system. The exception was Kansas State University, which requested a 1.2% increase for students enrolling in a full schedule of in-person classes. KSU officials said students could pay less in the future if enrolled in at least one online course and due to modification of student fees.
Karen Goos, vice provost for enrollment management at Kansas State, said the university’s realignment of tuition and fees meant a fee assessed on all online courses would be dropped. In-state students taking online courses are expected to experience an overall cost decrease, she said.
“Our overarching goal in creating this new tuition and fee structure was to make it easier for students to understand their cost of attendance at the university,” she said.
This would be the third year of flat tuition for undergraduate resident students at KU. The five other institutions in the state system — Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Pittsburg State University, Wichita State University and KSU — would have held that line in two of the three years.
“Affordability has been a priority for the board and for our universities,” said Bill Feuerborn, chairman of the Board of Regents. “Everyone in our higher education system is working to keep tuition affordable for Kansas families. Despite the financial challenges brought about by the pandemic, state university leaders are finding increased efficiencies, which minimize cost to students.”
The Board of Regents also voted to reject student fee increases proposed for KU, Wichita State and Pittsburg State.
“I’m a ‘no’ on all the increases for student fees,” said Mark Hutton, a Wichita member of the Board of Regents. “We’re holding tuition flat. We should hold fees flat, too.”
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