Ransdell addresses University Senate meeting

Andrew Henderson

The September meeting of the University Senate allowed President Gary Ransdell to address some concerns from senate members pertaining to the Confucius Institute.

The University Senate unanimously supported a motion by the Senate Executive Committee at their Aug. 27 meeting for Ransdell to revisit the contract with Hanban, the public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The motion requests “that Faculty Regent Barbara Burch act on the motion and report any results at the next SEC meeting.”

“The WKU Senate Executive Committee strongly believes that the Confucius Institute building contract signed by President Gary Ransdell is not in the best interest of Western Kentucky University,” the motion reads.

Burch said the motion did go forward to Ransdell requesting he revisit the Confucius Institute.

“He said that the contract is signed, the money’s here and we’re starting shortly,” she said.

When asked if Burch also presented the motion to the Board of Regents, also stipulated in the motion, she said she did send it on to Board of Regents Chair, Frederick Higdon, and his response was that it would be sent on to the appropriate committee.

Molly Kerby, chairwoman of the Coalition of Senate and Faculty Leadership for Higher Education, asked if Ransdell could elaborate on the details surrounding the contract for the Confucius Institute since the senate and Student Government Association have expressed concerns regarding the project.

First, Ransdell cleared the misconception some had regarding why the contract for the Confucius Institute did not appear before the Board of Regents for their approval.

He said the Board of Regents does not deal with contracts, and as president, he is authorized to deal with contracts of this nature. He further elaborated that the contract the Board of Regents did approve was the construction project for the building that would house the Confucius Institute.

“Of course the contract didn’t go to the Board; no contract goes to the Board,” Ransdell said.

SGA President Jay Todd Richey also voiced his concerns on behalf of SGA and as acting Student Regent.

At their last meeting, SGA presented Resolution 2-15-F: Resolution to Disapprove of the Procedure by which the Model Confucius Institute at Western Kentucky University was Effectuated. Ransdell was also present at the meeting to answer questions poised by members of SGA.

Richey said Resolution 2-15-F is slightly different from the motion passed by the senate. The senate’s motion suggests that the Board of Regents, and Ransdell, revisit the contract outright.

By contrast, Resolution 2-15-F, if passed, will voice the disapproval of the process by which the Model Confucius Institute building was approved. This differs from Resolution 1-15-F, which, if passed, would have voiced SGA’s agreement with the senate to urge Ransdell to revisit the contract altogether.

“While I am truly appreciative of the president’s answers and him taking time to visit SGA, I and many senators, of whom I’ve spoken to, remain skeptical of not only the merits of the contract of this building project but also the process by which it was handled,” Richey said.

Patricia Minter, history department senator, asked for clarification on several points regarding reports provided by SGA. These reports claimed the terms of the contract were not revealed to the Board of Regents before they were asked to approve the capital project. Minter also inquired whether it is true no legal counsel was involved in reading the contract before Ransdell’s signature.

Ransdell confirmed these reports were factual; both points Minter asked about were true.

“I think what we’re trying to get at is how is this a good deal for WKU and — more importantly, given the difficult financial straits we find ourselves in — is this really good financial stewardship? I think that’s the global concern that the faculty have expressed to you,” Minter said.

Ransdell maintained this was a good deal because the university now has $1.5 million in the bank earning income, and this amount was matched with a reserve fund from the Institute for Combustion Science and Environmental Technology totaling $800,000 with the other $700,000 coming from the value of the land.

“I consider this to be a very good financial transaction for us because it gets us something that we need, that will help us, that will be valuable to us in the future, and they’re [Hanban is] paying for most of the cost,” he said.

Aside from matters concerning the Confucius Institute, the senate’s September meeting was “light” according to Chairwoman Kate Hudepohl.

The August meeting minutes were passed as posted with no discussion, corrections or edits.

Hudepohl spoke about a meeting she and other senate members had with regent Gillard Johnson. She said during their meeting, she learned Higdon had charged the finance committee to look at the situation of compensation.

“That committee is specifically digging into that issue at the request of the chair of the Board of Regents,” Hudepohl said.

Provost David Lee said faculty searches for the 2016-2017 academic year are currently underway. He said interview exchange is going to be the mechanism they will be using for faculty searches this year.

Lee also said he’s received about eight names from recommenders and from people interested in the position for potential candidates to serve as the interim graduate dean. He said he hopes to have further comments about the search soon.

“I’m really delighted with the group; I think you all will be delighted with the group. I suspect I could put names in a hat and draw one out and we’d all be pretty happy, but I’ll try and put a little more process to it other than that,” Lee said.

There were no committee reports and no old business.

Policy 1.1280 Affiliated Faculty/Professional Staff, authorized by former Provost Gordon Emslie, was presented as new business and passed by the Senate.