The Emporia State University’s plan to restructure, using the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) recently adopted emergency policy for addressing COVID-19 issues at Kansas universities, has brought immediate and distressing change to the campus community.

ESU faculty and students were presented with the Framework plan on Sept. 7, with a required response by the morning of Sept. 12. The ESU plan was approved by KBOR at its meeting on Sept. 14-15. That approval was immediately followed by termination of numerous faculty members.

We call into question the motivation of KBOR as well as the actions of the ESU administration establishing a plan without input from the university community — although the university culture for decades engaged faculty, students, alumni, and community members in its governance.

Recent conversations with several retired ESU faculty members revealed that the concept of “shared governance” was brought to this university by John Visser, who was appointed president in 1967. Now, shared governance, which has served the University and community well for decades, has been shoved aside and replaced by autocracy.

The Board of Regents discarded that tradition of shared governance when the current ESU president, Ken Hush, was appointed. For the first time in memory, a search committee involving the campus and Emporia communities was not engaged in the search for a new president. Without a search process, Mr. Hush, who had been appointed by KBOR as the interim president, was announced as the president earlier this summer.

Another break with history is the background of the new president. Unlike his predecessors, he has no advanced degrees, no teaching experience in higher education, and no university administrative experience beyond volunteer work. The new president’s leadership experience is from the business world — Koch Industries.

Under Mr. Hush’s leadership, KBOR’s new policy for reshaping Kansas universities was applied to a university plan that involved only campus administrators with no faculty, staff, student or community input. In the process of restructuring, faculty members with tenure are at risk despite the guarantees that status offers, due to the KBOR Framework Workforce Management Plan’s response to “market considerations, enrollment, revenue, and employee conduct.”

The Framework goes on to say, “no existing university policy hearing procedures shall apply to such decisions.” Under the guise of an emergency, the ESU administration now has the tools to eliminate tenure, while at the same time, paring back the university’s offerings. Amazingly, under the section titled, “Rationale for why the Framework must be implemented,” the administration states, “While the University is not facing financial exigency,” yet goes on to list the factors to be used for termination of “any university employee” as though such exigency exists.

While the Framework does provide an appeal process, it puts the onus on the employee to prove the decision to terminate was inconsistent with the Framework, a result of illegal discrimination, or was “otherwise unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious.” Appeal decisions, made through the KBOR, are final.

Tenure is often derided as protecting professors who no longer perform. Nothing could be further from the truth. Low performance documented over time justifies terminating tenured professors after due process. The same standard applies to anyone accused of misdeeds in our country. What tenure protects is free speech on campus. It allows professors to challenge their students’ long-held views with new evidence and new perspectives. It protects them from being terminated without cause because they advocate for students who might not be viewed as mainstream, such as minorities or those in the LGBTQ community.

It is fair to point out that despite the fact that the KBOR provides financial exigency relief for all Regents universities, ESU is the only one using the Framework to take such extreme actions.

Our city and state benefit from robust ESU curricula providing undergraduate and graduate programs in a variety of areas, as well as graduating professionals who understand not just the business world, but science, mathematics, literature, and the arts. In addition, we all benefit from graduates in education, library and information management, and other professions. We need these professionals to value all citizens, not just those who bring additional profits to their companies.

Shared governance is significant as a research-supported management approach. The most successful leaders engage members of their communities in decision-making. And a democracy requires community engagement in planning, assessment, decision making, and curriculum development. The result is creative, relevant, vibrant, resilient university programs and campus culture.

The long-standing campus culture of shared governance is now a part of ESU history, thanks to the Kansas Board of Regents and the university president they selected.

Jim Calvert is a retired English teacher and Bob Grover is Professor Emeritus, Emporia State University.

(23) comments

jean b

Yesterday, I sent this message to the Kansas Board of Regents. (this is their email addr: regents@ksbor.org.) One of the jobs of KBOR is to hire and fire university presidents.

You made a colossal mistake in hiring Ken Hush. In fact I think there was something unethical about

the entire hiring process--everything, including the names of the other applicants was very secretive

and very hurried. It is unheard of to have a university president with a mere Bachelor's degree, and not

even in education. At a teachers' college? It looks very weird.

You made an even larger colossal mistake in accepting Hush's "workforce management" framework which

has resulted in willy-nilly firings of professors. How does it happen that a president of 3 months decides

to dismantle a university? What kind of arrogance must he have to do such a nonsensical thing? And you,

the KBOR, how can you allow that to happen? Do you see what I mean?--this whole thing smells very fishy!

You must admit your mistake. You must fire Mr. Hush for gross incompetence. You must rescind all the

actions Mr. Hush has taken with regard to his "workforce management" framework. You must hire an

academically qualified president.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to you firing Ken Hush, rescinding his folly and finding a

qualified president for Emporia State University.

sail

Melvin, welcome to our pity party …

Dr_Hale

Email I sent to ESU President Allison Garrett on January 4, 2017.

Subject: A Prophecy for 2017

Dear Dr. Garrett,

2016 was a bad year for ESU despite your presence and best efforts. You are hemorrhaging students, staff and faculty. ESU has acquired a well-deserved black eye for the way my wife and I were treated. No amount of Rah Rah Rah Go Hornets will make things better because what was done to us was Evil and Unrighteous. I predict that 2017 will be even worse.

You have an opportunity at the beginning of the year to begin a process of healing. It starts with acknowledging that we were wronged, and to reconcile.

I have written a little poem that I want you to share with Kevin Johnson and David Cordle. It's entitled: Light Slays.

It matters not if you are white if I am right,

Because right is might.

Right is like the difference between day and night.

That is due to the Light.

Light determines what is bright.

On the outside I am dark,

But darkness fills your evil hearts.

Light is True.

If you are a Liar, Light will Slay you!

Johnson and Cordle are two of the biggest liars I have ever met in a professional environment.

ESU will hemorrhage from a thousand cuts of Truth in 2017.

To Cordle and Johnson I say, "If we were going to quit we would have done that by now." They will know exactly what I mean by that.

ESU will go down like Pharaoh if you continue to persist on this path of racist oppression. SLIM could very well go under because no one wants to go to a library school that ignores racism and blatantly retaliates against people like us.

It's time for love, not hate.

Dr. Melvin Hale

Former Assistent Professor

ESU SLIM

LOOKS LIKE THIS PROPHECY CAME TRUE IN 2022.

CSD

The authors fail to note that the majority of the KBOR who hired Hush and all of the Regents who unanimous approved this travesty were appointed by Laura Kelly, whose reelection they support and whose many failures with respect to the administration of a variety of state agencies they have overlooked and/or defended. Unemployment debacles didn't apply to them. They survived the pandemic, so the fact that Kelly was the last governor in the nation to secure Covid tests was a non-issue. Sexual harassment at the Highway Patrol involved people outside Emporia. A half a billion boondoggle in drafting the Panasonic deal? Well, we'll see it goes. And when the administration's abject incompetency hits close to home, the authors still give her a pass. Kelly's incompetent, her appointees are incompetent, and what's happened at ESU -- and by extension, to Emporia -- is just another example of how that an incompetent administration can negatively impact all of us, even in the most surprising and unexpected ways.

sail

Mark , look at the regent #when they come out possibly next week ,, then digest it . Also wonder what Pit will do with their cash situation ? We can piss and moan wow is me ,, or we can put down our “rainbow stew” and get with the program

Rationa1

"Wow" is me...?

sail

Fat fingers on a small phone ,,,, woe is me

hayesdt

Well said, and a viewpoint -- regarding the inappropriate dismissals, lack of input, and wholesale lack of qualifications of the current President and the process (or lack thereof) in selecting him -- that so many friends of the University probably agree with. It's now time that all alumni and previous Foundation supporters and donors just cut out entirely their financial and other support of ESU until these recent actions are reconsidered and overturned, as many of us are planning to do.

hayesdt

And another point I intended to make . . . I'm no attorney and am unfamiliar of course with Kansas law. But how can a State of Kansas government entity create a "law" through its approved Framework policy that arbitrarily and abruptly abolishes rights of a University employee under established policies (that have probably been routinely applied in past practices) of the University? According to this Opinion Piece, the 'Framework goes on to say, “no existing university policy hearing procedures shall apply to such decisions.”')? I don't understand how that is legally possible. Can an agency / agent of the State Government of Kansas just by its own say-so / action / policy arbitrarily eliminate established conditions of employment or rights of its employees / citizens? Perhaps some legal minds can weigh in on this.

hayesdt

Finally one more thing, and then I'll shut up, where are the faculties and other employees of KU, K-State, Wichita State, Pittsburg State, and Fort Hays State in all this? They should and need to be standing up for the ESU colleagues and a forceful and highly vocal way -- and not just remain silent about all this.

Rationa1

I'm certain we'll see class action suits that settle the question of whether, and how, tenure can be scrapped.I'm no attorney, either (although I played one on TV) but my suspicion is that an agency can, in its capacity as an employer, make any adjustment to the employment contract it wants. Kansas is, after all, an at-will state. Had the staff members decided to resign, the employer would have been expected to live with it.

hayesdt

Perhaps under normal circumstances that would be the case (though there is some doubt whether a public employee can with a magic wand simply do away with an employment contract). However, and this is the important point, I seriously doubt that the remaining and unaffected employees at ESU have lost their right to appeal a termination under established ESU procedures -- just the ones who have been singled out for the firings under this Framework policy of KBOR, and that's just not right and probably is legally questionable.

Rationa1

Sure they can, Hayes. The Brownback administration demonstrated that when they essentially eliminated the classified service in State government and defanged the unions of state employees. So several of these staff and faculty will get together, have their day in court...and the courts will decide the question.

sail

wow ,,, your mad and want to burn it all down. This has been for the most part an institution that did not look at the enrollment declines the past few DECADES,,, the community also is partly to blame for accepting incompetent administrators who let this happen! We as a community can let this storm wreck our most vital asset ,,, or we can adjust our attitudes and join with ESU to return ESU to a vibrant institution. I’m betting President H . Is just what ESU needs to pull ESU and the community forward.

Mark W.

I came to Homecoming in 2019 and listened to President Garrett remark that ESU student enrollment was near an all-time high and student retention was the best in the Kansas higher education system. Then, COVID came and screwed up many things! The present ESU enrollment is down 2% from last year and the present “administration” stated there is no financial emergency! Get your facts straight!

hayesdt

No, I don't want to burn it down either, and I agree with your view about ESU needing to improve. Here is somethlng I submitted through another forum that better explains my thoughts: "For me, the saddest part of the ESU saga isn't necessarily that a retrenchment has occurred. I can understand that sometimes, given certain conditions, that has to occur in higher education. But from what I've read, it is the lack of transparency throughout the process that was absent, and that should never occur in higher education. While "shared governance" doesn't and shouldn't equate to shared decision-making in colleges and universities, it does imply constant communication between and transparency among boards, administrations, faculty, and staff. Personally ... I don't place ALL the blame for this mess at Emporia State on his shoulders (though I do blame him for the lack of transparency) ... Probably, the last two to four Presidents at ESU either knew of or well should have known about and foreseen the strong possibility of this eventuality (given ESU enrollment trends over even more than the last decade) and had the courage to tackle the problem as it was developing; that's a big part of what Presidential leadership is. I've been sorely disappointed and noticed that over the last fifteen years or so, ESU just wasn't taking" the steps it should have taken to improve itself and become more of a community and State asset.

But the lack of transparency and communication in how the recent actions were handled is the largest disappointment.

Rationa1

The legislature has been underfunding higher education in Kansas as badly as it has underfunded K-12 for years. No one is burning anything down...the legislature has turned Kansas' higher education system into a shantyville. When not even Peggy Mast saw the value in funding ESU appropriately, you can't really expect any other legislature to see its value, either.

Rationa1

Is that "wow" as in, "wow is me...?" LOL

bobinberea

Calvert and Grover have done it again. Gut-wrenching, heart-tugging review of the sordid details of the ESU fiasco. "Shared governance" is indeed the high ideal of the American system of higher education, and it appears to be under wholesale attack at ESU. Shameful!

Mark W.

Agree 100%!!!

GilsonFamily

I couldn't have said it better. But, let's add one thing: what will happen to Emporia's economy when ESU dwindles itself into a college or junior college or a tech school?

Jobs, consumers, and services will decline; businesses may have to close -- loss of students in the economy is a terrific revenue loss for Emporia. I hope the "city fathers" as well as us citizens are considering that possibility AND doing something about it! And, what ever happened to transparency in government?

Mark W.

I support this editorial and the Gilson family comment 100%! The KBOR wanted a hatchet man in their new ESU president and consequently an unqualified inexperienced hatchet man was named as the new ESU president and he has delivered the cuts to the ESU faculty with zero cuts in his fellow “administrators”?

Rationa1

You miss the point, Fam. We have Flint Hills Tech. Emporia neither needs nor can support another 2-year school. Look to Saint Mary of the Plains College for a forecast of what will happen if ESU falters as a university in Emporia.

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