Government & Politics

JCCC faculty members decry proposal to ease firing rules

Several faculty members from Johnson County Community College in Overland Park testified Tuesday before Kansas lawmakers.
Several faculty members from Johnson County Community College in Overland Park testified Tuesday before Kansas lawmakers.

Making it easier to fire community college teachers would discourage innovative teaching and harm faculty recruitment, several faculty members from Johnson County Community College told Kansas lawmakers Tuesday.

The House Education Committee held a hearing on a bill that would eliminate an administrative due process system for dismissing faculty.

For decades, state community and technical college teachers have been guaranteed the right to appeal to a hearing officer before they can be terminated. The due process protection applies to faculty members entering their fourth year.

In a controversial move two years ago, the Kansas Legislature repealed the due process system for K-12 teachers, but it was retained for community and technical colleges.

“Due process gives us the freedom to speak up with a dissenting voice, without fear of retaliation,” said Melanie Harvey, who teaches chemistry at JCCC.

Deborah Williams, who teaches environmental science at JCCC, said the current system has encouraged innovative instruction and a secure work environment.

“This is a bill in search of a problem,” Williams said. “There’s really nothing to fix.”

Vincent Clark, a JCCC history professor, said the loss of due process would make it more difficult to attract and retain faculty.

“The current system protects fairness and does not shelter poor teachers,” Clark said.

But Greg Goode, representing the Kansas Association of Technical Colleges, said the due process system makes it difficult and expensive to remove a faculty member “gone bad,” a process that he said can take two years.

That’s frustrating for administrators, but also for students when the problem is in the classroom.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear students complain,” Goode said.

Herbert Swender, Garden City Community College president, said that rather than encouraging innovation, the current system encourages complacency. Instructors after their third year have less incentive to excel, he said.

“Today’s bill is not about free speech in the classroom,” Swender said. “It’s not about academic freedom.”

The issue is whether faculty should receive continuing contracts and more protection than other employees have from dismissal, he said. Such personnel decisions should be in the hands of local boards and administrators, he said.

Edward M. Eveld: 816-234-4442, @EEveld