Saturday, October 19, 2013

Regents hear rumblings about tenure, but no specific plan has emerged

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN.  — Officials say they wouldn't be surprised if legislation surfaced that sought to change tenure policies at public universities following the uproar over a Kansas University tenured professor's tweet aimed at the National Rifle Association.

But so far, no proposal has emerged.

Members of the Kansas Board of Regents indicated earlier this week that they have heard rumblings, but they took no action, preferring to take a wait-and-see approach.

And key legislators said Friday the topic may be broached when the 2014 session starts in January.

But a specific plan?

"At this point in time, I have no first-hand knowledge of a tenure bill," said state Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, and chair of the Senate Education Committee.

"I haven't heard of anything thus far from any members, but that said, I wouldn't be surprised if the issue was brought forth," said state Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, who is chair of the House Education Committee.

Abrams said any talk of looking at tenure may be related to the incident involving KU journalism professor David Guth.

Guth went on administrative leave after a public outcry over the tweet he wrote after the Sept. 16 shootings at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. that left 16 dead.

"The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you," Guth posted.

Some conservative legislators have called on KU administrators to fire Guth, and some have said they will not support funding for the university if he is not fired.

Top KU officials and the regents have blasted Guth's statement, and KU said it would conduct a review of the situation. Meanwhile, hundreds of faculty and staff have voiced support for Guth's right of free speech.

"If it seems the administration is being responsive, then it probably would be less likely a bill would move forward than if it were apparent that the administration was being unresponsive," Abrams said.

Guth has said his tweet has been misconstrued. He said he wasn't advocating violence but was trying to make gun-rights advocates look at shootings from the point of view of victims' families.

According to KU policy, tenure guarantees that faculty can be dismissed only for adequate cause, unless a program is discontinued or a financial emergency occurs. Professors must be considered for tenure by their sixth year, and if they don’t receive tenure they must leave.

Supporters of tenure say it is needed to recruit top-notch faculty and protect academic freedom.