Curris Responds to Staff Congress Letter Expressing Disappointment in Board's Contract Vote

Mar 25, 2013

Credit Murray State.EDU

Murray State University’s Board of Regents Chairman Dr. Constantine (Deno) Curris has responded to a letter from the university’s Staff Congress that expressed the body’s concerns over metrics the board used when it decided not to renew President Randy Dunn’s contract.

Staff Congress President John Young sent the letter last week, expressing disappointment that the board voted 7 to 4 not to renew Dunn’s contract.  Young’s group and the Faculty Senate both approved resolutions of support for Dunn and submitted those resolutions to the board’s ad-hoc contract review committee. That committee consisted of Curris, Vice-Chair Marilyn Buchanon and Finance Committee Chair Steve Williams, and met only once in Louisville on February 13th.

Curris’ response to Young’s letter (full copy below) includes the metrics the committee used when compiling a draft report that Curris sent to regents on March 12th.  Curris says no regent provided him feedback on the report. Curris didn’t provide a copy of the draft report in his response. WKMS has a pending open records request to receive that draft report.  Also pending is a complaint from a Lexington attorney who claims MSU’s board violated Kentucky’s open meetings law when, he claims, a quorum of board members discussed university business at a social gathering hosted by regent Sharon Green.

John, I want to acknowledge receiving and reading your statement on the decision of the Board of Regents not to extend the President’s contract beyond its expiration date, June 30, 2014.  The following information may be helpful in answering the questions you have raised.

The Ad Hoc Contract Committee followed the procedures approved by the Board at its December 2012 meeting.  The Committee did its research and collected important information by which each Regent could form his/her judgment as to whether the President’s contract should be extended.  The Committee made no recommendation in the draft Report it prepared.

The draft Report had four sections outlined in this and the following paragraphs.  The first section covered Murray State’s progress or lack thereof for the years 2006-2012, representing President Dunn’s tenure beginning in December 2006 and extending through this fiscal year.  These data covered three broad areas critical to the University’s future:  Academic Standing, Student Enrollment, and Financial Health.

Academic Standing included the status of professional accreditations; external rankings reported by the US News & World Report, Kiplinger’s and Fortune magazines; entering freshmen ACT scores; graduation rates; freshmen-sophomore retention figures; and results from the National Survey of Student Engagement.  Where similar data from Murray State’s sister institutions were available, they were included for comparative purposes.

The Committee collected Student  Enrollment data on headcount and full-time students, minority enrollments, community college transfers, and students attending our Regional Education Centers.  Where available and relevant, data from our sister institutions were included.

The Financial Health of the University was assessed using data from the last six years measured against national benchmarks for financial activity and strength of reserves, as well as the results from the several financial and compliance audits.  The results from the recent capital campaign and the corollary annual giving figures were presented as were data covering state appropriations.

The second section of the Committee’s draft reviewed the letters received by the Committee and the resolutions of support it received from the Staff Congress,. the Faculty Senate, and the West Kentucky Educational Cooperative.  Each of these three resolutions was included as an attachment so that every Regent could read each resolution verbatim.

The third section of the draft Report summarized the Committee’s assessment of President and Board relationships, including a follow-up to relevant sections of the 2011-12 comprehensive presidential evaluation conducted by the full Board.

The fourth and last section examined presidential compensation and related issues at Kentucky’s comprehensive institutions and suggested changes that should be incorporated in the President’s contract should it be extended.

The Committee’s draft Report was emailed to all Regents early Tuesday evening, March 12, prior to the Board meeting, March 15.  I want to point out that not only did the Board have full access to the latest Staff Congress resolution, it received at its December 2012 meeting a report from Regent Phil Schooley spelling out the viewpoints of the Staff Congress on this important issue.  Phil, I would add, has faithfully represented the Murray State staff as well as sharing with the Board the results of the annual staff survey.

To address your other question, the Board followed its established procedures in voting whether to extend the President’s contract.  At the December 2012 meeting the Board adopted a timetable outlining that a decision would be made at its May 2013 meeting, if not sooner.

The Ad Hoc Committee was focused on the May date, providing a draft copy of the Report in advance of this last meeting and asking Regents what other information they wished to have and whether there were additional instructions for the Committee.  These questions were asked in the cover letter accompanying the draft Report as well as during the Ad Hoc Committee meeting Friday morning.

Between Tuesday evening when the draft Report was emailed and the Friday morning committee meeting, no member of the committee was asked for additional information, nor did any requests surface during or after the Committee meeting on Friday.  It is important to note that prior to this Board meeting four Regents (three who favored extending the President’s contract, and one who opposed) requested that if at all possible they preferred that a vote on extending the President’s contract occur at the March, not the May meeting.  Given those requests and the fact that no one asked for additional information, as chairman I followed up Friday and asked the six remaining members their preference on when the vote should occur.  A strong majority favored proceeding to vote at this meeting.  And that is what the Board did.

I can understand the fact that you and the other members of the Staff Congress were disappointed and saddened by the outcome of the vote.  It was a difficult decision for this Board, and not one that any member relished.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that each Regent made a conscientious decision based on the facts and on his or her judgment as to what was in the best interest of the University in the years ahead.

The viewpoints of the staff, along with those expressed by faculty and students, were considered by Regents as they have been on every issue which has come before the Board.  On this important decision, I hope you can appreciate that there were other important considerations including:  the critical data and information collected and transmitted by the Ad Hoc Committee, a review of the progress made by the administration in implementing the Strategic Directions policy statement approved by the Board two years ago, a consideration of what progress has been made by the President in addressing concerns expressed in last year’s comprehensive evaluation, and the judgment made by each Regent as to the kind of leadership the University will need in the years ahead, given national higher education trends and the highly competitive environment facing Murray Sate in Kentucky and the surrounding region.

I hope this information is helpful to you and your colleagues.  Thank you for all you do for Murray State.