By Troy Daugherty
A proposed elimination of due process for Kansas community colleges could have serious, unforeseen consequences, according to several HCC faculty members.
“Teachers will be overly cautious in what they say to administrators and when they are in administrative meetings,” said Kathy Mendenhall, speech professor.
“People won’t be as brave or bold in their classrooms.”
Dr. Karen Baehler, economics teacher, had similar thoughts.
“It’s impossible to speak your mind about something when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder,” Baehler said. “It’s just not possible.”
They both think that this would cause many teachers to remain silent when problems arise, in committees or elsewhere.
English professor Bill Sheldon said due process “protects faculty from being fired for arbitrary and capricious reasons.”
“It gives faculty the right to know why we were fired,” Sheldon said.
He said it means faculty can’t be fired simply because a board member or administrator disapproves of a course’s subject matter, or for “giving the wrong person a bad grade.”
Basically, it ensures that staff members are not suddenly fired for something circumstantial or petty.
Currently, there is a bill being considered in the Kansas House of Representatives that would eliminate due process from all community colleges and technical schools in Kansas.
This, in a way, is a follow-up to a law passed two years ago that eliminated due process from all K-12 schools in Kansas.
Many lawmakers see due process as an unnecessary burden, saying it takes too long or makes it too difficult to fire someone.
“The misconception is that it protects bad teachers,” Sheldon said.
“If an institution houses bad teachers, that’s a failure of the administration, rather than a fault of due process,” he said.
He noted that an instructor or professor now must work at HCC for three years before being granted due process rights.
If the administration had knowledge about a teacher breaking contract provisions or simply not doing well teaching, Sheldon said, then they should have fired that person in the first three years of his or her employment at the college.
Mendenhall also shared the opinion of there being misperceptions about due process.
“We have contracts and if we don’t complete these contracts we can be dismissed,” she said. “Due process does not keep us from getting fired if we don’t do our jobs.”
Baehler said that it’s the administration’s job to investigate when complaints come up, but that it is also important to get both sides of the story.
She worries that without due process, administration could take action to quickly fire professors before they get a chance to defend themselves.
Eliminating due process would take away their ability to teach what is necessary to the curriculum, Sheldon said.
“A school’s core value is academic and intellectual freedom. That’s hard to do if you are worried about being on the wrong side of an administrator,” he said.
It would “take away so much academic freedom,” Baehler said.
Mendenhall sees the legislative threat to due process as an insult and “an affront to our professionalism.”
Mendenhall and Baehler also said it saddened them when they learned of the HCC administration’s viewpoint on the subject.
Mendenhall said when she asked Dr. Carter File, HCC president, about the subject, he said he was in favor of eliminating due process because he thought it was too difficult to fire someone — but he did not elaborate on what part of the process was “difficult.”
If this law does pass, then the most likely next step would be for Kansas legislators to seek to pass another law, also eliminating due process from the Kansas Board of Regent four-year universities, the professors said.