At Emporia State, a former grad holds fort while campus waits

By: - December 18, 2021 10:00 am
Emporia State University president Ken Hush appears at his office desk

Emporia State University interim president Ken Hush, during a Dec. 6, 2021, interview, says being a part of the Blue Key Society taught him invaluable lessons. Hush was named the interim president on Nov. 16 following Allison Garrett’s departure to take a position as the chief executive of Oklahoma higher education in mid-October. (Margaret Mellott for Kansas Reflector)

EMPORIA — With the sun shining in from four large windows on an uncharacteristically warm December day, the president’s office at Emporia State University sits mostly empty.

There are a few personal items on the desk, such as family photos, but the bookcases behind are vacant. The office seems to be waiting, much like the rest of the campus, for the next university president to be named.

For interim president Ken Hush, who holds down this office, the waiting is all part of the job.

“(The other) night I was with a few local people,” Hush said. “One person asked me, ‘Hey, how’s the interim going?’ I didn’t hear — all I heard was, ‘How’s the intern going?’ So I joked, I said, ‘Yeah, in this case I am an intern right now,’ because I’m in a huge learning curve.”

Hush was named interim president Nov. 16 by the Kansas Board of Regents, following the departure of Allison Garrett to take a position as the chief executive of Oklahoma higher education. Garrett had been president since 2016. ESU’s new president will be chosen through a closed search, according to KBOR. 

“I wish I had the opportunity to spend time one-on-one or (in) smaller groups with more of the faculty and staff,” Hush said. “But I just I haven’t yet.”

Hush, an Emporia native and ESU grad, has returned to campus nearly 40 years after receiving his undergraduate degree in business. Hush previously served on Wichita State University’s Board of Trustees as its treasurer, and also previously worked at Koch Carbon, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Hush is expected to remain in the position through the spring semester until the permanent position can be hired. Blake Flanders, KBOR president, anticipates the announcement may come as early as May.

Blake Flanders, regents president, anticipates a permanent hire to be announced as early as May 2022. This presidential search will look differently from previous ones, which were open. According to Flanders, this closed search is meant to attract a wider range of applicants. (Margaret Mellott for Kansas Reflector)

Lifelong friend of “Kenny” Hush, Mike Law, another ESU grad, said he hasn’t always been as outgoing as he is now. The two met at Mary Herbert Grade School, and they’ve been friends ever since. 

“He was a shy kid,” Law said. “There’s no question about that. Even though as unbelievably outgoing and forthcoming as he is now, he was not that way as a youngster. He was a shy kid. He blossomed in high school. He got involved in tennis and became a great tennis player there. That helped him with his confidence in day-to-day life.”

While at ESU from 1978-1981 as a student athlete, Hush became the second all-time winningest singles tennis player, according to ESU Athletics. He was inducted into the ESU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995. Hush also was a member of the Blue Key Honor Society, meant for select students who display balanced excellence and leadership while college upperclassmen.

Hush is the oldest of four siblings, with two younger sisters and one younger brother. His dad, Bob Hush, is also from Emporia, and his late mother, Luella, grew up south of Emporia.

One of the many lessons his parents taught him was not to be afraid to pursue the things he wants, Hush said. After graduating from ESU, Hush has a long list of places he’s lived — one of them being southern France. His family moved with him, though it wasn’t always the easiest with his two daughters.

“We put her into the school and it was French and she didn’t know French,” he said. “She didn’t know English that well because she was in early childhood. My youngest (Gillian) was just about 9, 12 months old. She probably had the easier time. But my oldest (Rachael) for the first, I would say six weeks, every day I’d come home from work and she’d already been home for a little bit after school and she would come to me and be crying — excuse me.”

Hush paused to wipe away tears.

“She had to adapt,” he said. “She was learning something for the very first time. As a parent, you try to protect your children. So, that was tough.”

Hush raised his daughters to be adaptable, but it’s a lesson he learned from those before him.

“I think there were several other (people) that taught me the importance of being adaptable,” Hush said. “I worked all through high school and college. I had the parents I did, and the community that supported (me). I was always embracing change — and change, it’s not comfortable for a lot of people, but I was taught to look at it differently, like, ‘Oh, that’s exciting.’ ”

Currently, the search committee chair has not been yet named, though Flanders said he expects that to be finalized at the December KBOR meeting later this month. As the search moves forward, it will look differently than past ESU presidential searches. This will be a closed search, unlike when Garrett was hired in 2015. Campus will be able to provide input in the leadership profile, but interviews will be closed and final candidates will not be announced.

The campus won’t get a chance to meet the candidates, Flanders said. Only once the committee has made a final decision, and it is confirmed by KBOR, will the identity of the next president be released.

Flanders said the secrecy is necessary to provide the best pool of candidates.

“Many candidates that we’ve talked to do not want their names revealed,” Flanders said. “Every search firm has told us, many candidates have told us, ‘I would not have applied if this were an open search.’ We want the very best president at Emporia State University. And in order to meet that goal, we feel like this type of search process better supports that goal.”

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Margaret Mellott
Margaret Mellott

Margaret Mellott is a Emporia State University graduate of communication and journalism. During their time at ESU, they spent all four years on the campus paper, The Bulletin. She also spent one year with The Campus Ledger at Johnson County Community College. Outside of collegiate journalism, Mellott has also worked on projects for Vintage KC Magazine and Humanities Kansas.