By Sean Hull
A bill being debated in a Kansas House of Representatives committee will revoke due process rights to which full-time faculty members at community colleges in Kansas are entitled, making it easier and less costly for administration to fire instructors.
The initiative is supported by the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, of which the college is a member, and the Kansas Association of Technical Colleges. Those who support the bill argue it is an unnecessarily arduous process to fire a full-time faculty member, leaving poorly performing professors in positions that could be filled with better instructors.
Backlash from full-time faculty at the college has been strong, with many professors testifying at the Kansas House Education Committee on Tuesday.
Melanie Harvey, associate professor of science, was one faculty member who testified. She said she fears the elimination of due process rights will leave faculty vulnerable to retaliation by administration if they speak up on budgetary issues at the college.
“[Administration] needs us to be able to speak up without fear of retaliation and remind them that the students are more than numbers, that they are people, and what their needs really are,” Harvey said in an interview with ECAV Radio on Wednesday morning. “I feel like there’s a balance of power that’s very important for maintaining quality in education. Education is not like a business.”
Lee Cross, a member of the college’s Board of Trustees, released a press statement Wednesday in which he came out against the initiative, saying he is unsure where the Board of Trustees for the college stands on the issue, as they have never discussed it.
“It is also unclear why any community college would support this measure, a union-busting tactic long sought by some interests, and for sure is an attack upon academic freedom that Kansas has long supported,” Cross noted.
Deborah Williams, associate professor of science and immediate past president of the Faculty Association, also testified Tuesday at the Kansas House Education Committee. In her testimony she worries the revocation of tenure will harm progress at the college.
“If faculty are fearful that their ideas are too contentious then inquiry and innovation is stifled,” she wrote.
Irene Schmidt, adjunct professor of Spanish, said she is using this moment as an opportunity to push for further rights for adjuncts. In an email sent to Ledger staff, she raised the question of full-time faculty members “… What are your thoughts about your adjunct colleagues not having due process already?”
The Faculty Senate will be meeting to discuss the new bill tomorrow, with Board of Trustees chair Greg Musil in attendance.
Update: In an interview with The Campus Ledger today, Feb. 12, 2016, President Joe Sopcich offered his comment on house bill 2531. He said the issue comes down to local control, which the college promotes.
“It takes something from the state and gives it to the local governing body. A group, our trustees, who are elected, all seven of them, in a county-wide election every four years. … This college, one, is pretty hardcore when it comes to promoting local control, and this is an example of that local control. So now our own trustees, who serve as stewards of the college, will be able to look at this issue and think, ‘What could we do that would be in the best interest of the faculty of the college and the community?'” said Sopcich.
— Ledger editor-in-chief Pete Schulte contributed to this report.
You can listen to full interviews with Melanie Harvey and Irene Schimdt here: