ESU Emporia State

The Emporia Gazette

Terminations are underway at Emporia State University.

The Gazette confirmed Thursday evening that faculty members had been let go in multiple departments across the university.

At the Kansas Board of Regents meeting Wednesday, ESU President Ken Hush told KBOR that programs the university would focus on — or that were in the university’s “strike zone” — included nursing, biology, technology, business, library and information management, psychology and teacher education.

However, Brenda Koerner, a biological sciences professor, told The Gazette that she was called into a meeting with Dean Brent Thomas earlier this morning, where she was told she would be losing her job.

“I went in and I was read from a script that … I would not be returning, that my last day would be May at the end of the semester and I would receive three months severance unless it was deemed that I should be put on administrative leave,” Koerner said.

Koerner also said what would constitute administrative leave was not clarified, though the reasoning behind her termination was “basically a list of the criteria in the [workforce management] framework.”

Koerner plans to stay at the university for now but said she is feeling angry and disappointed with the university’s decision to terminate faculty.

“I don’t have any other options at the moment,” she said. “I was not planning to book for another position this year.”

“I think disappointment is the primary feeling for the time that I’ve dedicated to this institution,” Koerner, who serves on the Faculty Senate and has taught at ESU for 17 years, said.

In fact, the past week has made Koerner reconsider staying in higher education at all.

“I’ve had some misgivings in the past two years,” she said. “I’m not even sure I will stay in higher ed because of the way that faculty has been treated during this process [and] during the challenges of COVID.”

“I know a lot of faculty probably feel betrayed by the university and I feel that they probably feel unsupported,” Koerner added.

Longtime journalism professor Max McCoy, who had been openly critical of the proposed policy, also confirmed his termination. He told The Gazette that he had been called into a “mandatory” meeting at the Earl Center Thursday afternoon.

McCoy said he had expected to be meeting with his dean — Brent Thomas — but instead found himself meeting with director of human resources Ray Lauber and graduate dean Jerald Spotswood.

“They told me that I would be ‘laid off’ at the end of my contract,” McCoy said. “I asked for a specific reason and they could not point to one other than indicating the four top bullet points in the letter that they gave me, which says cost of operations, reduction of revenues, current or future marketing considerations and, restructuring of the program department or school.”

McCoy had misgivings about the way in which faculty were given notice and how the policy was introduced in the first place.

“It seems like KBOR has given the administration a blank check to fire and restructure at will,” he said.

McCoy said he was disappointed in the decision, especially given that he was the only full-time journalism faculty member at the university. He said there’s now a question about what will happen to ESU’s journalism program and it’s longstanding student newspaper for whom he is the advisor, but he wasn’t yet prepared to discuss the matter.

McCoy said he would be looking ahead at his options in the coming months.

“It’s just something I have to think about,” he said. “This is something my wife Kim and I are going to have to discuss about what our options are. I’m certainly not planning on doing anything quickly. Certainly by the spring, we will make a decision.”

The terminations come after KBOR unanimously approved Emporia State University’s “workforce management” framework Wednesday afternoon.

The framework will allow ESU to make sweeping cuts to both programs and faculty, including faculty with tenure. Hush said the move is necessary to deal with low enrollment and budget deficits, and will “transform ESU in the best interest of our students.”

The cuts are expected to affect 7% of the university as a whole. Around 2% of students are currently enrolled in programs that will be affected.

Students enrolled in programs that are affected by the cuts will be allowed to finish their degrees.

Most faculty who are let go as part of the framework will also have around one year of notice and the option for three months of severance pay.

“I can confirm that ESU is notifying affected employees today,” said Gwen Larson, director of media relations at ESU. “I cannot confirm what departments they are in. We won’t have anything else to release until all affected employees are notified and we have shared with campus community.”

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

(29) comments

GilsonFamily

I would agree except that all of this -- from the appointment of President to the re-structuring was done in complete secrecy with little or no input from those affected: not the faculty, not the students, not Emporia, not anyone who just might have raised a question! Why?

sail

experience with committees imo is a process of taking minutes and loosing hours,,,at every turn there would be valid questions of why,,,i just cant imagine the process working otherwise..

sail

Just saying,,recognizing the problem is the first part of solving the problem ,,,, management by crisis is messy,,,, and that was the course heading for ESU prior to President H,,,, I’m confident that a plan is in process To adjust the course at ESU that will result in a successful future for both ESU and Emoria .

sail

More students equal more staff …so start whining about professional employees who did a piss poor job of keeping students at ESU the past few decades… this is an opportunity for the community to rally behind the efforts to bring more students to ESU , stingers up.

GilsonFamily

single up all lines -- sail -- and dock. You are way off course. Professors with tenure earned it not only with time and effort but by ATTRACTING and retaining students.. thanks to their reputation. A university without a solid humanities curricula isn't a university -- it's a college. Are you sure you want ESU downgraded so it will attract LESS students?

jean b

I just finished contacting Rep. Schreiber and Sen. Longbine (by email) about the terrible things going on at ESU. In the past they have both been supportive of Emporia's schools. It can't hurt to contact them and hopefully lots of emails or phone calls will get them involved. You can google their addresses and phone numbers.

CSD

Rather than contacting Reps. Schreiber and Longbine, you should be contacting Governor Kelly. She's the one who appointed all of the Regents on the Kansas Board of Regents -- the same Regents who unanimously approved Hush's actions and hired him without conducting a search.

Mark W.

I do not know how the ESU president can claim to focus on biology and nursing and then cut biology professors? The ESU president also claims that they will strengthen the psychology program? Psychology is a dead major. He also claims that ESU will emphasize technology. Can anyone explain the “technology” programs at ESU? KSU has the largest decrease in enrollment this year mainly because who wants to go into farming which is now corporate farming. Did KSU get the axe like ESU did?

create

I'm surprised and rather shocked at all the departments involved, specifically teacher education. At a time when we are rife with teacher shortages, I wonder why teacher education was even considered? I appreciate all the worthy comments this section has to offer today. I hope we are able to learn more about why this has happened. Will the Gazette be interviewing Hush? Not that he will have much to say about spearheading a witch hunt.

jean b

I've read several articles in the past few days about the horrible things happening at ESU. It does not pass the smell test. First we have a president picked in a closed search, with the KBOR refusing to say who the other finalists were. This is most unusual in Emporia. Then they pick the guy with the least college education. He has a BS in business adm and marketing- he's a bean counter and seller. Of the 6 State universities, 4 presidents have doctorate degrees, 1 is an MD and one (ESU's) has a BS! I'm willing to bet that most, if not all, principals of Emporia's public schools have higher degrees than Hush. Oh, but he has worked a long time for Koch Industries and he has donated over $43,000.00 to KochPAC. The Kochs are known for being libertarians- little or no government-like no schools, no hospitals, no roads. Hush's degree suits him fine in the business world, but the education world IS NOT the BUSINESS world! What does he know about education? In my opinion Hush is being paid $275,000.00 yearly to take a chain saw to ESU. And it's very sad. ESU is almost 160 years old with very good academic rankings. Of course, this could not have happened without the Kansas Board of Regents agreeing to everything Hush asked for. In my opinion, it sure looks like the Koch boys bought the KBOR and installed Hush. I sure hope this all backfires on Hush and the KBOR. My advice to ESU students and faculty is to run to the nearest exit from Emporia before your education and/or reputation is irreversibly ruined.

Rationa1

I keep hearing that government should be run like a business. When we hire business people, and they run government organizations like businesses, they get this sort of push back.

We asked for this. Now we have to live with the consequences.

CSD

The "Koch boys" didn't buy the KBOR -- Laura Kelly appointed all of them! This is directly her responsibility and every Kansan should vote against her. Her appointees have wreaked havoc at multiple state agencies for years; Emporia, ESU, its faculty and students are simply the latest victims of her incompetency.

MT

When you graduate from a High School and are accepted to a University, why do you need to take general education classes? These are the same ones you took in High School and passed. Those are the professors that should be the first ones to go. Especially those that used their grad assistants to teach the class. Keep the professors that teach specific classes for specific degrees.

CSD

This is entirely the responsibility of Laura Kelly. She appointed ALL of the members of the Kansas Board of Regents who approved this plan (after asking for it). I would encourage all to reach out to Kelly and ask that she request that the KBOR reconsider as it's ridiculous to shutter ESU's renowned boutique programs in order to focus on the School of Business, where ESU is foreclosed from any meaningful long-term success due to the costly requirements of ongoing AACSB accreditation.

Rationa1

Because it couldn't possibly be the responsibility of the Republican legislators who have underfunded higher education in this state for years and thus created this funding crisis. Our own Peggy Mast led the charge one year to cut into ESU even deeper than other Regents institution. Lay your ire where it belongs: on the people who tried to educate our kids on the cheap.

CSD

Respectfully, it is clear that in this case the responsibility is entirely on Laura Kelly. How funding is used is directed by Hush, who was hired by Kelly's Board of Regents without even bothering to do a search. All five university presidents and KU's chancellor were directed by the Board of Regents to submit a plan to address reductions in funding, but Hush was the only one to do so. And the Kelly Regents not only approved unanimously but entirely in a vacuum, with no consideration for the system as a whole. You can look far and wide for others to blame but, in this case, the blame falls squarely on the woman who appointed all of the Regents who directed this debacle from the beginning.

Rationa1

Unfortunately, laying blame on Governor Kelly and the Board of Regents is scapegoating, not holding those who made the mess accountable. This has been years in the making as the legislature has consistently reduced state support to higher education. Most of those have retired or lost re-elections and are no longer in a position to be held accountable. Write them letters or leave gifts on their graves if it will make you feel better. The solution is for the legislature to convene in January and provide the needed funding...if the legislature values these staff, faculty, and program. If they don't pony up the cash, you'll know that the Board of Regents and President Hush are carrying out the will of your elected representatives.

CSD

I understand the inclination to protect Kelly, who appointed all of the members of the KBOR, which hired Hush without even bothering to do a search and unanimously approved the incredibly stupid decision to terminate tenured faculty. ESU has a long-standing policy with respect to what to do in instances of financial exigency -- which you lay at the feet of the legislature that approved Kelly's budgets -- but Hush's plan is outside the parameters of that policy and that departure was approved by the KBOR. Kelly has a long history of appointing incompetents to head a wide variety of state agencies, and this is just another example where innocent Kansans will be hurt and the state will likely get sued because her appointees to the KBOR did something stupid and legally actionable -- again. Kelly's appointees have devastated a number of state government agencies, and the damage to ESU and Emporia is incalculable.

Louis

Dormitories and the student Union must have on campus students. They cannot use tax dollars. On campus enrollment is down 30 or 40%. This explains part of the problem. In addition to doing away with the name Kansas State teachers college and all the laboratory schools on campus was not very well received. I wish them the best and hope they can turn it around. The Normal School used to allow people to graduate with three semesters of work with no debt whatsoever. That model was picked up by the Chinese successfully right now and they're prospering from our old model which we abandoned. The state support for universities has also disappeared. Instead of supporting our universities with money we're sending it to places like Ukraine, Afghanistan, and the rest. Our priorities are bad in regard to this. State support of higher education has dwindled over the last few years. And the students have made up the difference with loan money that is extraordinarily high.

CSD

From 2017 to 2021, enrollment at ESU has declined 2%.

Rationa1

Your post has some spot-on points, Louis: The state legislature has been underfunding higher ed, contributing to the current student loan crisis. Our universities have been privatized, for all practical purposes.

Unfortunately your other points are half-truths and exaggerations. Your credibility will be enhanced if you limit your points to verifiable facts.

Standing By

Curious as to how students currently enrolled will be allowed to finish their programs without professors.

railroadhorn

Purely informational question: what impact on enrollment did the loss of Chinese and other foreign students have in this time period? My regret in watching this go down is seeing how unprepared the community is. No matter what good may come it’s always going to seem like a hit squad fired at will.

LarFromHays

I've watched how KBOR has had it in for ESU and FHSU over the years since I was an FHSU student in the 1970s. ESU, it seems, has always had a target on it's back. Now, with the help of a lackey from Charlie Koch, that target is being landed upon. Wishing my pals in Hornet Nation love. Sting the bad guys! (Well, so long as it isn't us at FHSU.)

Jayhawk82

Right, let’s just keep it the way it always has been and watch ESU decline into a medium size junior college. Or, we can make hard decisions and turn this thing around before it’s too late. Keep making the hard but needed decisions President Hush it’s the only way ESU will survive and be a viable four year university ten years from now.

panderso

What a disaster for Emporia and ESU. It is unfortunate that the city and our elected officials did not do more to fight against this.

Kansasforever

Enrollment is declining, budgets are tight and the board of regents approved this.

CSD

From 2017 to 2021, overall enrollment at ESU has dropped only about 2%, according to KBOR data.

katiehunter2001

I agree! This is horrible and wrong!

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