by Pete Schulte
At the time of publication, House Bill 2531 is circulating through the Kansas House of Representatives. The bill, which aims to revoke administrative due process rights from full-time faculty members at the college, passed through Kansas’ Committee of Education on Feb. 19.
Currently, tenured full-time faculty members are guaranteed due process by the laws in place. To put it simply, if instructors are set to be terminated, they are provided an impartial hearing with the possibility of appealing at a district court. Faculty members fear that without due process, the quality of instruction could deteriorate. David Davis, professor of English, states that morale of faculty is low in the face of HB 2531.
“I’ve had the privilege of being a professor here for 25 years,” Davis said. “During that time, I’ve served as chair of the English department, and I’ve been vice president of the Faculty Senate. I say that not to quote my résumé, but to establish that I have worked with the administration of this college for more than two decades. I can honestly say in that time that I have never viewed the administration as an enemy. Different worldview, of course. We have different jobs and we don’t always agree. I have to put that in the past tense though because I have something to tell the board that I don’t think they want to hear: things are bad.”
Jim Leiker, chair of the history and political science department, believes that the bill could stifle innovation, leading to a negative experience for students.
“HB 2531 comes at a time when faculty here, and elsewhere, are worried about a business model approach that de-professionalized us, makes us vulnerable to shifting political winds and encourages less innovation. Less innovation, not more,” Leiker said.
The college’s Board of Trustees and administration, however, support HB 2531, citing their ability to maintain local control as a better overall option for the college. During the February Board of Trustees meeting, Trustee Chair Greg Musil is confident that the college can do a better job than the legislators in Topeka and that the college can maintain due process rights locally, rather than through Topeka.
“What troubles me the most through this process is an inability, at some point, to look at the broader picture, and step back and say, ‘Can we do better ourselves? Must we rely on Topeka to tell us our solutions?’” Musil said. “I know there’s a lot of passion behind this and it’s harder to look back when you think your job is threatened. … The consistent philosophy that this college and this Board has followed in my five years on the Board, and has instructed our administration, and has talked to the public about, and has told citizens before, is local control. We believe that the voters of Johnson County electing this board will elect people who will do the best interest of this college, and the best interest of this college is to have the greatest faculty we can have. That doesn’t mean willy-nilly firing.”
While many faculty members wish for the Board to attempt to take a stand against the bill before the House votes on it, Vincent Clark, professor of history, thinks it’s inevitable that the bill will pass and that the college’s administration and Board of Trustees must back up their claims of local control by adding due process rights to the Faculty Association’s master agreement, the agreement guaranteeing certain rights to tenured faculty members.
“The current statute protects due process by providing the adjudication by an impartial hearing officer with the possibility of appealing that decision to a district court,” Clark said. “This process has equal rights for both the administration and the faculty member being terminated. The current Board policy does provide some due process. It provides for hearings, but the hearing is before the Board of Trustees, which may not be totally impartial. … I would urge that the Board put the requirement that there be an impartial adjudicator into the master agreement and I would urge that it begin the process now.”
Trustee Lee Cross, the only Board member to publicly speak out against the bill, agrees with Clark’s analysis of adding due process to the master agreement. He believes that the Board and the Faculty Association is, in fact, close to coming to terms to do just that.
“I’m fairly pleased that our board and our president have at least publicly stated that they’re going to maintain number one, the board policy that allows for due process,” Cross said. “It’s my opinion and impression that the board, and the chair of the board, and it’s the sentiment of the board in general that they’re going to include a due process provision within the master agreement. … It’s my understanding that [the Board] has agreed to so. We’re working with the Faculty Association President Ron Palcic to do that.”
The House resumes session on March 2. It is unclear whether or not they will come to terms and vote on HB 2531 at that time. Follow campusledger.com for further updates.