Murray, KY – Opposition is mounting to the elimination of tenure for new faculty hires at community colleges in Kentucky. Kentucky Public Radio's Tony McVeigh has been tracking the growing insurrection.
Last month, with a strong majority, the 14-member Kentucky Community and Technical College Board of Regents voted to do away with tenure for new faculty hired after July 1st. Instead, new hires will be offered a series of three one-year contracts, followed by the opportunity to sign a two-year contract. Proponents say the new policy will save money and give colleges more flexibility in hiring. But sociology professor Roy Silver of Southeast Community and Technical College in Cumberland sees it differently.
"What this will do is likely to reduce the pool of available, highly qualified faculty that want to come to places like Southeast," said Silver.
Silver helped organize opposition to the regents' action and on April 3rd, the faculty at Southeast sent the board a no-confidence message. The vote was 68-30.
"This expresses the will of the faculty of one community college and hopefully others will follow suit, that this is a detrimental decision for higher education in Kentucky, particularly for us in a rural community," said Silver.
Indeed, other colleges have followed suit. The faculties at community colleges in Maysville, Elizabethtown and Hopkinsville have approved similar no-confidence resolutions. The faculty council in Lexington has done the same. Regents chairman Richard Bean says the votes are disappointing, but the board has no intention of reversing course.
"The board will go on doing what it thinks is best for the students and the people of the commonwealth," said Bean.
Bean says opponents are trying to "misrepresent" what the board has done and the new policy will have no effect whatsoever on due process or academic freedoms.
"What this does is give us the opportunity to be more flexible in changing the environment that we live in, so that if a course is no longer relevant, we can shift gears and go to courses that are relevant," said Bean.
Closely monitoring the developments is Rep. Rick Nelson, a retired Bell County teacher who serves on the House Education committee. He believes the regents, who approved the no-tenure policy at the urging of KCTCS President Michael McCall, are getting bad advice.
"If they would listen to the people in the battlefields and not the people in the officer's clubs, I think they that would have a better understanding and realize how important job security is to getting good quality people that have a commitment to the community college system," said Nelson.
Nelson says if the regents don't reverse the no-tenure policy, he will offer legislation next year to repeal it. But he realizes winning passage of such a bill may be tough.
"We might be able to get it out of the House. I don't know if the Senate would fool with it. But a lot of times, it depends on what kind of groundwork you've got. How many of these teachers want to get involved politically in their area and put pressure on their legislator?" questioned Nelson.
That remains to be seen, as does the future of the no-tenure policy. Governor Beshear says, for now, he supports the action by the board of regents.
"I think it's sort of an experiment, in a way, of how that'll work in the community college system. I don't expect our universities to follow that path, but I think the community college system, with their unique set-up, with two-year degrees and a lot of technical courses that they give, felt like it was justified under those circumstances," said Beshear.
But Beshear says he will continue to closely monitor the ongoing debate, so he will be prepared should a bill repealing the no-tenure policy ever reach his desk.