Washburn’s new communications policy draws fire

PHOTO By: Brian Dulle, Kansas First News
PHOTO By: Brian Dulle, Kansas First News

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Washburn University has implemented a policy that appears to require faculty members to seek permission from school administrators to talk to public officials or members of the media, although a university official contends the policy is only for deans.

Randy Pembrook, vice president of academic affairs said the policy developed earlier this month was intended only as a way to keep track of deans’ statements or presentations on subjects related to the university.

“It’s just a way for our president, for me, for our people who deal with government, to know what our person has testified about,” he said.

The policy includes no indication that it’s limited to deans, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1tOL1ry ).

For example, Alan Bearman, dean of libraries, sent a notice to his staff indicating that faculty must provide notices of events and on and off campus visitors to the appropriate dean, who then would forward the requests to seven administrators, including President Jerry Farley, Pembrook, their administrative assistants and a lobbying agency. Those notices include meetings with politicians, board of regents members or administration and “Capital Journal reports.”

After sending a notice, the policy says in bold and underlined font that faculty should “Wait for a response prior to any further communication.” The policy includes comments regarding the university’s working environment and personal stances on education funding, Pembrook said.

“This is not intended in any way to impede individual rights,” Pembrook said. “An individual can always speak their perspective on something.”

“It’s just the idea that, because we are here in Topeka, and a lot of times political figures do have an interest in what we’re doing, and the right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing,” he said. “It represents a request for the deans to do as a courtesy communication on these things.”

Pembrook said deans involved understood it was intended only for them and no repercussions are likely for violations.

The policy formed by the Academic Affairs Office was sent to deans April 4, shortly after the university settled a lawsuit filed by former librarian Michelle Canipe alleging Bearman bullied, harassed or sexually discriminated against her, and that Bearman and Washburn tolerated a sexually hostile environment and retaliated against Canipe for complaining about sexual discrimination. The case was settled out of court in mid-March.

“I think it is fair to say that Washburn administration wants the issues made public by my lawsuit to go away,” Canipe said Friday of the protocol. “However, infringing on employees’ First Amendment rights is not the solution, and I think that is exactly what this communications protocol does.”

Pembrook said the protocol had nothing to do with the lawsuit and discussion about it started in January after legislators visited the Washburn Institute of Technology.

Faculty Senate president Matt Arterburn said he would reserve comment until he reviewed the policy and he planned to meet with Pembrook to discuss the matter.

 

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