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.