Malik Jackson
KU Statehouse Wire Service
As institutions continue to respond to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic that has resulted in a drastic shift for higher learning across the country, top officials have been left scrambling to come up with the best new practices for trying to teach students during the world health crisis.
In Kansas, institutional decisions are left up to the Board of Regents, a deliberative body of nine members appointed by the governor, responsible for overseeing public schools throughout the state.
In the middle of a health crisis, with schools changing schedules and classes going virtual the Board of Regents has granted most of the decision-making power to the universities, themselves.
“When it comes to what we are dealing with now we delegate planning to the institutions CEOs,” said Matt Keith, spokesman for the Board of Regents.
The board describes itself as overseers of all public colleges.
“We serve as the bosses,” Keith said.
But in the middle of a global pandemic the board has shifted from bosses to supervisors overseeing plans it did not come up with. That notion stands in contrast to the board’s official code, which states that the board is largely responsible for governing university policy development “on a wide range of issues,” according to the board’s manual.
This stands in contrast to the responses of other states such as California, where the Board of Regents worked unilaterally to cancel most in-person classes for over 700,000 students. Tavian Smith, a senior at the University of Kansas, said he wishes the Kansas Board of Regents would have followed suit in developing a universal plan of action for universities.
“We have the regents for a reason, but it feels, from what I’ve seen and heard, like they’re not doing anything, and we continue to wait in limbo,” Smith said.
Since early March, administrators at the University of Kansas have been left to govern their own response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to University spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson. Some of the decisions by the University’s CEOs included moving all classes online, transitioning to an optional credit/no credit grading system until December 2020, and cancelling all spring sports.
“The Board of Regents has given each of the state’s universities the autonomy to make decisions,” Barcomb-Peterson said. “For several months, a KU leadership team has been meeting multiple times daily to discuss the effect of the pandemic on university operations.”
Whether or not that planning effort has remained collaborative between individual universities and the board remains unclear.
“We will continue to coordinate plans from the universities,” Keith said when asked what the board is doing to assist university CEOs in making governing decisions during the crisis.
Most public institutions of higher learning in Kansas have announced similar plans of action to the University of Kansas, but students and faculty across the state have yet to hear any unified response to the pandemic. Barcomb-Peterson said this has not stopped institutions from coordinating responses with one another.
“Universities are collaborating and sharing information,” Barcomb-Peterson said.
The absence of a response from the Board of Regents has not stopped the universities from working to reestablish a since of normalcy. On May 1, the University of Kansas released a five-stage plan to resume some on-campus operations in the fall semester, following suit with several other universities across the state.
Malik Jackson is a University of Kansas senior from Kansas City majoring in journalism.