NKU faculty seeks open presidential search, accountability for budget deficit

By: - May 8, 2023 10:17 am

Northern Kentucky University (Photo from LINK nky)

Northern Kentucky University’s Faculty Senate passed a resolution last week that seeks, via a statement, to improve the relationship with the university’s board of regents but also heavily criticizes the board for its role in the public university’s $25 million deficit that has led to staffing and program cuts.

“There is some criticism in that statement because the faculty feel like they bear some responsibility for what happened,” said Faculty Senate President John Farrar.

At its last meeting, the faculty senate discussed a possible resolution for a no-confidence vote against the board of regents.

Farrar said he thought a vote of no confidence — which means the faculty senate doesn’t support the governing body of the university — is extreme and a last measure. But he said the faculty is committed to ensuring the university has an open and transparent process for selecting the new president.

The faculty senate chose to call on the board to allow more input from faculty, staff, and students on the new presidential search and requests the regents rebuild trust through openness and transparency.

“These decisions have resulted in the elimination of one-sixth of the university’s full-time faculty positions over a period of just three years, leaving some academic programs to be taught entirely by part-time adjunct instructors.”

– NKU Faculty Senate

Board of Regents Chair Rich Boehne said that the board accepts responsibility and accountability, though the two sides might not always agree on the specifics.

“The board always accepts full responsibility, because that’s our job,” Boehne said. “I guess there’d be differences of opinion on whether the board has acted properly and decisively.”

However, Boehne couldn’t answer whether or not the university would change course and decide to have an open presidential search. Instead, the board would look at this statement and take that into consideration at their next meeting June 14.

“I would just have to honestly say ‘I don’t know’ because that would be decisions made by the search committee and their recommendation to the board,” Boehne said.

The deficit issue started in the fall when the university was found to have a nearly $25 million deficit. The university parted ways with President Ashish Vaidya under what both parties called “mutually agreed upon” terms — though Farrar said Vaidya’s departure and the budget deficit were related.

The statement passed by the faculty senate on May 5 ties the board of regents to the budget deficit by saying that current financial issues stem from the trust the board placed in Vaidya.

Further, the statement says that the board’s primary role is as a guardian of the university’s fiduciary health, and they failed in this role.

“Therefore, NKU’s current financial crisis stems, in part, from the failure of the regents to review and act upon financial information that was presented to them in the ordinary course of business,” the statement says.

In order to respond to the university’s financial crisis, the board of regents has cut university staff and programs.

“These decisions have resulted in the elimination of one-sixth of the university’s full-time faculty positions over a period of just three years, leaving some academic programs to be taught entirely by part-time adjunct instructors,” the statement says.

Boehne said he thinks there are differences of opinion on how the board has handled the current budget shortfall and the strategies and tactics to deal with it.

“The board has acted and been very decisive on both how we react quickly and what needs to be done in order to put the university on solid footing and continue to serve students and communities,” Boehne said.

Another part of the resolution calls on the faculty senate and the board to increase communication between the two bodies. But faculty senator and NKU Professor Kathleen Fuegen said that the board has failed in its fiduciary duties and that they might not do better when it comes to communicating.

“The board’s primary responsibilities are fiduciary,” Fuegen said during the Friday meeting. “Their primary task is to oversee the financial health of the university and at that task they did fail, so we can say all we want about improving communication, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to do a better job.”

Farrar said he hoped the statement would help bridge the gap between the faculty, staff, and student bodies, and the board of regents — noting that despite issues over the past year, NKU still has a lot of positives.

“I feel like the regents do want us to be an excellent university,” Farrar said. “But we have not always been pulling on the same side of the rope.”

Boehne said there are “gracious olive branches” in the statement and the two governing bodies of the university have a good relationship, even though there are disagreements.

This story is republished from Link nky.

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