Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
Thursday, June 17, 2021, 1:15 p.m.
KU Lawrence staff, faculty and affiliates

June 17, 2021

Dear Staff and Faculty,

Today Chancellor Girod informed members of the Kansas Board of Regents that KU will not utilize the COVID-19 temporary policy on dismissal on either the KU-Lawrence or KU-Medical Center campuses.

As you know, when the Kansas Board of Regents announced its COVID-19 temporary policy on dismissal in January, we did not summarily dismiss the option without a path forward to resolve the current fiscal crisis. In addition to the significant concern we continue to have about the financial pressures and challenges facing KU-Lawrence, at that time there was also a great deal of unpredictability in the variables that would determine the magnitude of our anticipated fiscal shortfall. We know this past year, with all of its uncertainty, has been full of anxiety and discomfort for many, and we are grateful to see our health, our economy and our outlook improving.

While this announcement brings us some relief, we still have a great deal of work to do and bear a significant responsibility to correct our fiscal trajectory. The Chancellor’s message to the Board affirms our intention to work together with academic, administrative, and governance leaders to develop long-term solutions in the spirit of stewardship of the university, as a demonstration of our commitment to excellence, and in recognition of our unique position in the state as an AAU institution.

In April, our new CFO Jeff DeWitt shared his analysis of new fiscal reports created over the past year and determined that KU-Lawrence currently has a structural deficit of approximately $50 million, which would balloon significantly in the next year if left unaddressed. Using updated budgeting processes put in place this past year, budget cuts will reduce the structural deficit by just over $25 million in FY22. Additional plans are being developed to address the remaining structural deficit over the next two years through a combination of strategies which involve:

  • continuing to work to improve the excellence, delivery, and accessibility of academic programs (both in-person and online),
  • continuing to increase research productivity and external funding,
  • continuing to improve collaboration and break down silos in key functional areas and organizational structures,
  • growing enrollment and net revenues as appropriate,
  • exercising greater discipline in spending and operating expenses,
  • enhancing accountability in the allocation of space and infrastructure maintenance, and
  • reducing duplicative systems and structures.

Though we face continuing impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, decreases in enrollment, and state fiscal issues that have collectively created extreme financial pressures on the Lawrence campus, Chancellor Girod has informed the Board that we, acting collectively, are confident we do not need to resort to use of the temporary policy for three primary reasons:

  1. The anticipated receipt of additional federal emergency aid — though one-time and restricted funding — helps alleviate some of the immediate pressure we face on our Lawrence campus, and allows additional time to implement the changes necessary to address our long-term challenges;
  2. The creation and implementation of a strategic fiscal management plan for FY 2022 and beyond (as outlined above), and;
  3. The comprehensive review and revision of existing KU policies and procedures addressing faculty and staff performance in a way that supports excellence and accountability while reflecting shared principles related to tenure, academic freedom, and sustained and rewarding career development.

We recently shared this plan to support excellence and accountability with governance leaders to understand and incorporate their ideas and concerns. To support excellence in staff performance, we will work with University Senate and Staff Senate leadership to implement their existing recommendations which, among other strategies, include:

  • scaling up professional development opportunities, and ensuring that all supervisors experience foundational training;
  • improving utilization of our annual performance evaluation system while ensuring evaluation criteria align with our core values and institutional outcomes;
  • providing greater support to promote frequent and informal conversations between supervisors and staff that improve performance and address concerns about retaliatory behaviors; and
  • providing staff with opportunities to have a greater voice in providing suggestions that improve our work and increase our success.

To support excellence in faculty performance, we will work with University Senate and Faculty Senate leadership to refine and adapt our faculty performance support systems through the shared governance process by:

  • working collaboratively with Faculty Senate committees in their efforts to examine and update existing university policies on academic program discontinuance and tenured faculty dismissal procedures;
  • engaging Faculty Senate leadership and its relevant committees to work on updating our existing promotion and tenure policies so that faculty activities in areas central to our mission are rewarded and recognized in reviews and in faculty evaluations, specifically: diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging community engaged scholarship, public scholarship, development of open educational resources, entrepreneurship, interdisciplinary engagement, and effective teaching;
  • working collaboratively with Faculty Senate leadership and its relevant committees to improve our existing faculty evaluation policy to create transparent accountability measures to support professional development among our faculty; and by
  • partnering with Faculty Senate leadership in the development of a faculty workload policy that fulfills the Regents’ charge to KU while reflecting our particular academic disciplinary and programmatic needs.

Commitment to Accountability

As Chancellor Girod articulated during a virtual meeting this spring, given the great uncertainties faced by our campus, it would have been irresponsible stewardship to take KBOR’s temporary policy off the table until there was a clear and sustainable path forward for KU. We will always be clear about our primary responsibility to ensure the future of this university, even when it involves measures that challenge our nature and our community.

The Chancellor will keep the Regents apprised on our progress in completing changes to policy and process. There are university-level policies to change first, some potentially as early as the end of this fall semester, followed by the work to align unit-level policies with university-level policies over a longer period of time.

I look forward to working with governance, academic, and administrative leaders to update these policies and processes, which will allow us to hold ourselves to high standards, recognize and reward excellence, and address and improve performance when it does not meet our standards. In doing so, I believe we will build the strongest faculty and staff possible at our Lawrence and Edwards campuses in service to our students and to the State of Kansas, to advance the academic disciplines we represent, and to address the global issues that we collectively face.

This has been an exceptionally challenging year that has tested each of us in ways we could never have anticipated. Thank you for your patience, your creativity, your dedication to our students, for your resilience and your perseverance as we continue to make our way through the pandemic and to create the future for KU.

Respectfully,

Barb

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor