Murray State’s Board of Regents Chairman Dr. Constantine Curris answered an hour’s worth of questions Tuesday afternoon from faculty and staff regarding the board’s vote not to extend Murray State President Randy Dunn’s contract. That vote came on March 15th the day after 5 to 6 regents met for a social gathering and casually discussed university business. A Lexington attorney is questioning that social gathering as an illegal meeting. Curris maintains there was no collusion or discussion of a vote on the president’s contract at that gathering.
During the question and answer session Curris didn’t oblige any requests for a re-vote on the president’s contract, but he said if the board wanted to re-vote it is well within the its purview to do that. Many questions revolved around the premise for the board’s vote. Curris said four board members asked him to proceed with a vote citing an email from regent Susan Guess. The email said public conversations about Dunn’s future were a “distraction from the work of the university.” Curris continued saying that board members had enough information and that they should act.
Staff and faculty endorsed a contract extension for the president. Their questions also attempted to gain better understanding of the metrics used, or omitted from an ad-hoc contract review committee’s draft report. The committee’s report was made public only after WKMS submitted an open records request to the university. The report included various metrics selected by the committee to chart university progress or lack thereof during Dunn’s time as president. A metric not included in the report was online enrollment, which has shown considerable growth during the last six years. Curris said that data wasn’t included because it didn’t indicate whether or not those students enrolled online were also students enrolled in traditional on campus or regional campus classes.
Faculty and staff also questioned Curris about why some aspects of a National Survey of Student Engagement were not included and why the usage of some statistics could seem to infer a continual decline, when in fact the metrics could vary from year to year. U.S. News and World Report rankings are one example. A 2006 to 2012 straight comparison depicts an overall decline, however upon further review those rankings tend to vary up or down each year. The graph below depicts MSU’s rankings for the last several years.
Curris complimented Dr. Dunn on the overall financial health of the institution and a successful fundraising campaign. MSU raised a record $70m during a comprehensive campaign. Curris was clear on Dunn’s shortcoming, including his relationship with the board. He said Dunn’s failure to notify the board of his applications seeking other positions eroded the trust of the board. Curris specifically referenced Dunn being identified as a top 20 finalist in a search for the University of Tennessee’s President.
Faculty Senate President Kevin Binfield issued this statement after the Q&A: “In all quantifiables, he (Dunn) excelled. The only mark against Dr Dunn remains the fact that he looked for other jobs and didn't inform the Board. I still have no idea what is wrong with that. I look forward to further conversations with the Board, but I hope that the Board doesn't confuse what is good for the Board with what is good for the University.”
Curris, though, didn’t provide any one particular metric as a reason for the board’s vote not to extend Dunn a new contract. On March 15th, immediately following the board’s vote Curris said it was the “feeling” of a majority of the board to vote against extending Dunn a new contract. Those “feelings” weren’t discussed during the meeting, because there was no discussion on the motion during the meeting. Curris cited an attorney general’s opinion that prevented the board from going into executive session to discuss the motion. However, there is no law that prevents the board from having that discussion in open session.
Curris has justified his “no” vote saying he assured board members he would vote with the majority of the board. And if a tie vote, Curris said he still would have voted no because he doesn’t think an organization can function well with a board split in support of its CEO.
Curris declined comment following Tuesday’s meeting saying he had a prior engagement scheduled to attend immediately following the meeting.