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AAUP Letter Advises Kansas Conference on Recent "COVID Exception" Termination Policy

The AAUP sent an advisory letter today to the officers of the Kansas Conference of the AAUP in response to the Kansas Board of Regents' recent "COVID exception" termination policy approved on January 20. The board cites as its rationale the “extreme financial pressures on state universities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, decreased program and university enrollment, and state fiscal issues.” The policy would allow the administrations of six state universities to develop a “framework” that would permit an administration to suspend, dismiss, or terminate from employment any employee, “including a tenured faculty member,” outside of existing board and university procedures. The letter states,

[T]he board policy, by depriving faculty members of the due-process protections without which tenure, as the AAUP understands it, does not exist, effectively eliminates tenure at any institution that adopts it. While some regard tenure as an exalted faculty status separable from the due-process protections of the kind described here, tenure is inseparable from those due-process protections which in fact define it. An institution that fails to afford those protections cannot protect academic freedom in service of the common good.

The letter documents how the board’s extreme policy is fundamentally at odds with AAUP's principles and standards. While the COVID-19 pandemic has had significant repercussions for higher education across the country, these standards have helped governing boards, administrations, and faculty to work together even in times of crisis.

While encouraged by news that five of the six state institutions do not plan to institute the regents’ policy, we are dismayed to hear that the administration of the University of Kansas does plan to do so. If the KU administration institutes the policy, it will eviscerate tenure at the institution and, along with it, the academic freedom and shared governance tenure is meant to protect.

Because of this, the letter continues, "our concerns are not allayed because the board’s enactment is—for the moment—temporary. Any terminations that would result under the temporary policy would be permanent. An institution that failed—even intermittently—to provide its faculty the essential procedural tenure protections described above would have a 'tenure system' in name only."

Read the letter.

Publication Date: 
Friday, January 29, 2021