UK removes dean who was defendant in suit ending in payment of $620,000 to professor who objected to Bevin’s Medicaid plan

Stephanos Kyrkanides (University of Kentucky photo)

The University of Kentucky has removed the dental-school dean whose alleged retribution to a faculty member resulted in a $620,000 settlement with the professor and his restoration to the payroll.

Dr. Stephanos Kyrkanides ended the post-retirement employment of Dr. Raynor Mullins in 2017, after Mullins and other College of Dentistryfaculty members objected to the withdrawal of dental and vision benefits from the state’s standard Medicaid plan, as part of a package of changes advocated by Gov. Matt Bevin.

A federal whistleblower lawsuit by Mullins initially alleged that the move was prompted by a call Kyrkanides received from Bevin, an administration official, or Mark Birdwhistell, the UK HealthCare vice president who helped the administration draft the plan; and that Kyrkanides told Mullins to make no more public statements about the plan, and “communicated that this direction came from ‘up top’.” Bevin’s office denied any knowledge of the allegations.

A revision of the suit dropped Birdwhistell and an unnamed Bevin administration official, identified only as “John Doe,” as defendants. They were later dismissed, but without prejudice, meaning they could have been reinstated. That left Kyrkanides as the only defendant. In December, as the case was heading to trial, UK and Mullins settled the matter and issued a statement saying they would have no further comment on it. Mullins has been rehired to run a new oral-health program.

On Wednesday, Provost David Blackwell, the university’s chief academic officer, sent an email to faculty and staff in the dental school, saying:
As of this morning, Dr. Kyrkanides is no longer the Dean of the College of Dentistry. He will begin a 1-year sabbatical/administrative leave immediately, but remains a faculty member in the College. I thank Dr. Kyrkanides for his service to the College and University during his time as Dean.

I will soon be meeting with the leadership team of the College to discuss interim leadership. During this time of change, I urge each of you to stay focused on your excellent work in teaching, research, service, and patient care.

We will be arranging meetings with faculty and staff in the near future to discuss next steps for the College. Thank you very much for your contributions to the Commonwealth, UK, and the College of Dentistry.

Asked if the move was voluntary or involuntary on the part of Kyrkanides, who had been dean since 2015, Blackwell referred the question to university spokesman Jay Blanton, who declined to comment, other than to say Kyrkanides would get 75 percent of his dean’s salary while on leave.

Mullins’ suit roused concern among UK faculty, even though post-retirement positions do not have traditional protection of tenure for professors. At the December meeting of the University Senate, the faculty’s governing body, fine-arts professor Herman Farrell noted the settlement and told UK President Eli Capilouto that the claim of a “response coming from the governor’s office” with “consequences to that faculty member . . . really does affect academic freedom, and it frightens me as a faculty member.” He asked Capilouto if “at some point in the future that you would take a sort of a more sort of proactive approach to what was implicated there.”

Capilouto said, “There was a contention in this case about intervention by governmental officials. That part of the case was thrown out. I know no circumstance where the governor or anybody in the governor’s administration said anything to undermine academic freedom. I’ve been here seven and a half years. I’ve never had an elected official — I’ve served under two governors — tell me anything about someone’s employment, period. Especially no one has ever said anything to me, employment-related, to what someone said — and you say controversial things, and it is my responsibility to defend you when you say, and that’s where I stand on it.”

Shortly after the suit was filed, Capilouto said in a university-wide email that UK “has a deep and enduring commitment to academic freedom. Our regulations protect it, and our values hold it sacred. No member of our community will be punished for expressing their views on matters of public concern.”

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