For fear of academic and administrative instability, Murray State’s Faculty Senate drafted and submitted a letter expressing support of President Randy Dunn to the University’s Board of Regents for consideration.
The letter was also written to ask the board to take action on the president’s contract – which, without board action to toward renewal, will end June 30, 2014.
Dunn said he believes the Board wants to be sensitive to faculty concerns, but he also understands the role of the board is to balance a number of competing interests – he said that might be part of what is at play in this situation.
“I’m not sure about the impact on academic ‘security’ but I think it does raise the level of organizational angst – particularly on the academic side of the enterprise – when the search for a new provost is underway,” he said. “If there’s uncertainty about the president’s ongoing role, it probably adds to that some.”
Dunn said when it was not clear what was happening with senior leadership – particularly the chief executive – it could put things on hold throughout an organization.
“I recently had one of our mid-level academic administrators at the University share with me (a concern) that budget team members are more tentative and afraid to move in some bolder ways,” he said. “I’m not sure if there’s going to be the necessary commitment over the longer haul to implement recommendations.”
Bonnie Higginson, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, agreed with Dunn’s sentiment and said she knew the reason for the Faculty Senate’s decision had to do with a level of uncertainty about leadership.
“I believe the resolution will be carefully considered,” she said. “For the stability of the University I wish this could be settled. These last few months have created a level of anxiety that at times is not altogether healthy.”
Higginson said it was almost as if they were all treading water.
When asked about alternative options, Dunn said he has asked the board for a contract extension – following the board’s 360-degree comprehensive evaluation in the spring – and said he was told by Constantine Curris, chair of the Board of Regents, the board would not be acting at that time.
“It was then that I shared with Curris that until the Board would take action to extend, I will need to explore other select, exceptional career opportunities when they arise until my status is determined,” he said. “ I don’t think it’s wise for me to just wait for the clock to run down.”
He said if a reasonable contract extension was offered to him, he would accept it, and said he and his wife Rhonda are in full agreement that further job hunting would come to an end.
The Faculty Senate has not been the only constituency to express concern to the Board of Regents, the Staff Congress sent a similar letter in January stating they were in support of Dunn’s contract renewal.
More recently, the Staff Congress has unofficially decided not to follow suit and will instead be waiting for its staff survey to be completed. The survey asks questions about upper administration, benefits, responsibilities and compensation and the last day the survey can be completed is the day of the Dec. 9 Board of Regents meeting.
John Young, Staff Congress president, said the results of the survey would indicate to the staff how it would proceed with either writing a letter to the Regents or not writing one.
Results from the 2011 Staff Survey indicate a large majority in support of Dunn. More than 94 percent agreed the president has the knowledge, skills and experience necessary for institutional success and 93 percent agreed the president does a good job of communicating major developments.
Young said the executive committee of the Staff Congress had discussed the issue prior to their November meeting, but no resolution could be created at the time.
Young said each member of the congress had the responsibility of talking with their peers and gathering information and opinions on what might be done, so the Staff Congress might make a decision before the first Board of Regents meeting in 2013.
He said in January, the staff’s representative body sent a letter to the Regents, based off the results of its 2011 survey, stating the staff was in support of Dunn in regards to his skills as president and his communicative ability.
“The board has heard an opinion from the Staff Congress already,” Young said. “Our 2012 survey results will be provided at the first meeting of the new year, including extensive comments and recommendations.”
Young said if the president’s contract was not extended the staff might not see any immediate changes, but a good working relationship with a new president – in the event Dunn’s contract was not extended – would take time.
“A sudden departure could be disruptive because there is an excellent working relationship between President Dunn and the staff,” he said.
In the event Dunn applies and receives an offer at another university, business or agency of the government, Young suggested a sudden departure would not fare well – especially as the University is also conducting a national search for a provost.
Young said he has seen Dunn has a large support group with the students, faculty and staff and he believes Dunn is good at having direct interaction with University groups – something he said the University has lacked in previous presidents for many years.
“I’ve been in Murray long enough to know what can go on between (University constituents), the president and the board,” he said. “I would hope that the board would consider the amount of support for Dunn.”
Story by Chris Wilcox, News Editor.