Provision in state budget bill would allow tenured professors to be fired

A student walks in front of Cherry Hall on Feb. 22.

A provision, reintroduced into the state’s budget bill, would allow universities to fire tenured faculty when making financial cuts. 

Part of the language in HB 200 would allow the Board of Regents of a state-funded university to reduce the number of faculty, including tenured faculty, “when the reduction is a result of the Board discontinuing or modifying an academic program…”

According to the Courier-Journal, Sen. Chris McDaniel added the provision after he consulted with university board members and presidents. 

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Bob Skipper, director of media relations, said he was unaware of any conversations between President Timothy Caboni or any member of the Board of Regents. 

“There are clearly established [American Association of University Professors] guidelines that address how to manage academic program closures and WKU is committed to following those processes should they become necessary,” he said in an email. 

According to those guidelines, termination of tenured faculty may occur under extraordinary circumstances because of a “bona fide financial exigency,” which is a severe financial crisis that compromises the academic integrity of a university.

There are additional guidelines for termination of tenured faculty as a result of discontinuing an academic program, such as the university making “every effort to place the faculty member concerned in another suitable position.” 

According to the bill, reductions would have to be done with “compelling evidence” that program changes are in the university’s best interest due to “low utilization, financial feasibility, budgetary constraints, or declaration of financial exigency.” 

If a faculty reduction were to occur, the board would provide 10 days notice in writing to the faculty member or members who is removed, as stipulated in the bill. 

Academic tenure, as defined by the AAUP, is an indefinite appointment which can be terminated only “for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation.” 

Claus Ernst, faculty regent, said he is not in favor of the provision and saw it as an attempt by the legislature to “meddle in something they don’t know how works.”

Ernst said tenure is in place so faculty members are free to do academic research without fear of undue pressure. 

According to the Faculty Handbook, the tenured status of a faculty member may be terminated at WKU for five reasons:

  • By retirement

  • By resignation and acceptance thereof

  • By a dismissal for cause

  • By a decision of the Board of Regents that termination is necessary because of financial exigencies of the institution

  • By a decision of the Board of Regents that termination is necessary due to changed academic program needs resulting in a situation so that there is no longer a teaching position available within the University for which the faculty member is qualified