February 5, 2021
Dear Faculty and Staff,
During lengthy meetings this weekend and continuing this week, senior leaders in administration and governance at the University of Kansas have discussed the fiscal challenges, the structural threats and the opportunities the university currently faces.
While the Kansas Board of Regents temporary policy that allows workforce reduction offers the potential to reset KU’s Lawrence’s employment base, it also puts at risk the processes of tenure that protect those whose research and teaching are core to our mission. Rightly, the policy must not be used until it is clear we have exhausted all other options. After extensive deliberations, we are asking the Regents to grant us an extension until July 1 before we make a decision about whether we will need to submit a possible framework to use the board’s temporary policy for COVID-19 recovery in order to address our financial challenges. We value and want to protect tenure, while we also accept and respect our responsibility to serve the needs of our various constituencies.
To be clear, our fiscal challenges are the result of many forces beyond our control, such as sustained significant cuts in state appropriations, increasing expenses such as healthcare and technology infrastructure, and changing student demographics in Kansas, among others. The challenges we faced prior to COVID-19 have only become more severe due to the pandemic.
The vast majority of KU’s Fiscal Year 2022 projected shortfall is in KU-Lawrence campus operations, affiliates and auxiliaries, such as KU Housing and Dining. This shortfall is a considerable hazard facing the Lawrence campus that requires immediate and strong action. Because financial exigency applies to an entire institution, and our fiscal challenges are primarily on the Lawrence campus, this is not an option that we will pursue.
This is the moment where we at KU must come together to act with great purpose and great speed to permanently address our challenges, because they are so great, because no one at KU wants to use this policy, and because we all love our university and all for which it stands.
There will not be a single solution to our challenges, there will be many efforts on multiple fronts. We will take every appropriate action as we work together to achieve our goal of restoring our campus to financial health. We will prioritize growing enrollments and growing revenues as quickly as possible. We will address the need to make cuts by pursuing numerous viable cost-savings measures from university operations, such as consolidating information systems, moving to strategic sources, reducing operating costs, and we will provide a comprehensive and detailed overview about these activities in the near future.
We’ve asked university governance and academic leaders to work closely with us as we also pursue a number of opportunities where KU-Lawrence can move toward the goal of fiscal health by addressing academic operations – such as implementing revised academic workload policies and academic personnel evaluation policies, developing degree maps with course rotation schedules, and engaging in more robust and comprehensive program review. Some of these initiatives were launched as part of our new strategic plan in early 2020, and will significantly improve and streamline our operations. Understanding that the university must meet its fiscal challenges and do so on a very tight timeline, we will work aggressively throughout the spring, within the spirit of shared governance, to engage in these activities while respecting tenure, addressing our responsibilities, and holding ourselves accountable to our various constituents and stakeholders.
As we come to terms with these significant changes, we must also recognize there are many constituents of, and investors in, the University of Kansas who have expectations, and in some cases, rights, for which we are called to account:
- the State of Kansas, our peer members of the Association of American Universities, contracting and grant-funding agencies, and the academic disciplines we serve – all of which expect us to produce valuable and excellent research and creative activities that are worthy of these investments and associations;
- our undergraduate and graduate students – especially those from historically marginalized groups – who expect and deserve benchmarked quality and the greatest support possible as they work to complete their degrees;
- our faculty and staff – especially those from historically marginalized groups – who expect and deserve that we do all we can to support their success by providing adequate preparation, a fair and equitable workload, meaningful assessment and professional development, competitive pay, and recognition and salary increases for meritorious work;
- the KU Endowment Association and the KU Alumni Association, and all the Jayhawks who serve as donors and advocates of the university and of our work – who expect that we give our best to our research, teaching, and in service to our students, our state, our nation, and the Jayhawk community;
- the Higher Learning Commission, specialized accreditors, and federal agencies – all of which expect that we do all we can to meet the obligations of our affiliation, and to strategically manage and minimize risks associated with our work and their investments;
- the University, itself, that provides our foundation and facilitates our work, and which needs us to serve as conservators of its heritage, creators of its future, and effective stewards of its resources to sustain the institution for Jayhawk generations yet to come.
While we aspire to the twin goals of bringing our university back to fiscal health and to upholding the rights afforded through tenure for our faculty, it is critical we recognize that we secure the right to tenure by addressing the rights of our various constituents, investors, benefactors and advocates. Ultimately, tenure means that we are accountable for monitoring, demonstrating and reporting our commitment and responsiveness to the common good.
Over the next five months, we will use existing structures where possible, we will reset our policies, procedures, and systems as necessary, to right-size and right-fit our organization in ways that will address our fiscal challenges and changing circumstances. We will make difficult decisions this spring, and we hope to be able to address our fiscal challenges through these and other means.
Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor