Curris responds to criticism

Board of Regents Chair Constantine Curris met with faculty and staff Tuesday to dispel misunderstandings related to the nonrenewal of President Randy Dunn’s contract.

Members from both groups had expressed disappointment in the board’s March 15 decision. Faculty Senate and Staff Congress formed resolutions in support of Dunn and his contract renewal prior vote.

Many faculty and staff focused their concerns Tuesday on a report released by an ad-hoc committee charged with evaluating Dunn’s performance since 2006. The report was circulated by Curris to the board two days before the vote.

The ad-hoc committee consisted of Curris, Vice-Chair Marilyn Buchanon and head of the finance committee, Stephen Williams.

Dunn’s performance was evaluated in several aspects of the University and its constituencies since his term began in December of 2006.

One section of the document, titled Report of the Ad-Hoc Contract Committee to the Murray State University Board of Regents, discussed the relationship between Dunn and the board.

The report states: “The board noted the way he handled his candidacy ‘impacted the trust relationship between the board and the president.’ Subsequently, the president has been a candidate for the presidency of Missouri State University and Commissioner of Education for the State of Florida. In neither instance was the board or its chairman notified of that candidacy before public awareness.”

During the faculty and staff meeting Tuesday afternoon, Chris Mitchell, associate professor of humanities and fine arts, asked Curris why applying at other universities is considered a breach of trust by the board.

“Let me take off my hat as the chair of the board, as someone who’s been a part of higher education and University president,” Curris said. “In higher education that rarely occurs and should not occur.”

Wednesday afternoon, an announcement was made from Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, that Dunn was named a semi-finalist in their presidential search.

Steve White, associate professor of biology, said the situation would make any faculty nervous about the future of their career, as he believes many faculty and staff have applied at other locations without notifying their superiors.

When discussing the ad-hoc report in the meeting, White also criticized the group of statistics used, saying they lacked consistency and the years between 2006 and 2012 were poorly represented.

“I found it pretty inaccurate for that kind of a decision,” White said. “Nothing from that could be seen as objective.”

Under academic standing, Murray State is compared statistically to other schools, using the National Survey of Student Engagement. Kevin Benfield, president of Faculty Senate, asked Curris to explain why only five of the survey questions from NSSE were used in the report. The survey, according to Benfield, consists of more than 90 questions total.

Curris said the ad-hoc committee simply received the information and it was in no way manipulated. He said the committee desired to represent the data in an easily readable form that would reflect where the University currently stands.

When Staff Congress President John Young asked Curris if the budget recommendations from the president’s office would be supported when Dunn leaves, he replied with a focus on Murray State students.

“There was a category of recommendations, which individually could be justified,” Curris said. “But when you put them all together, several of these recommendations came down hard on students.”

Curris discussed the effects of national budget cuts on work study programs, educational grants and healthcare for students. He also said there will be a tuition increase, possibly of around 3.5 percent.

In terms of the recommendations from the budget planning and review committees at Murray State, Curris said he estimated an impact of more than $1 million lost toward student support. He said these changes would translate immediately into another increase in student debt.

Another point faculty and staff consistently addressed was the immediacy of the vote. Benfield, White and several other members asked Curris why the board never met to discuss what was in the ad-hoc committee report before voting.

Initially, the board planned to discuss its findings in a separate meeting before voting on the contract in May. According to Dunn’s contract, the vote could be made anytime before June 30, 2013.

Curris said a motion had to be filed for the board to meet in executive session to discuss Dunn’s contract. He said it was his assumption the board did not file a motion because of an opinion released by the attorney general saying a specific Kentucky school board could not go into executive session to discuss the reappointment of a superintendent.

Curris said Regent Susan Guess wrote to him the night before the meeting, saying she had sufficient information to vote on Dunn’s contract the next day.

Several other Regents agreed with Guess, and only one wanted to discuss the findings with Dunn before voting, according to Curris.

“I think delay further alienates people,” Curris said, addressing Benfield. “Didn’t (Faculty Senate) say last year they wanted clarity on the president’s status?”

Said Benfield: “Well, there was our clarity.”

Story by Lexy Gross, Assistant News Editor.