Emporia State University president Ken Hush, right, received approval from the Kansas Board of Regents to deploy a policy designed to expedite personnel and program reform. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — The Kansas Board of Regents endorsed a request Wednesday by Emporia State University administrators to initiate a process of transforming the campus workforce and realigning academic offerings to address harsh financial and enrollment trends.
The state Board of Regents unanimously approved ESU president Ken Hush’s request to implement a policy established by the higher education governance board allowing the system’s six public universities the option of expediting dismissal of tenured faculty and other employees.
Reforms sought by Hush include elimination or merger of academic programs in ways that corresponded to personnel changes.
“Our next step is to share the details about this transformation to those individuals directly affected and our campus community,” Hush said. “We anticipate our colleagues and students will receive details by the end of this week, although that could be subject to change if necessary.”
Hush, who graduated from ESU but was an unusual presidential hire in June given his lack of a graduate degree, said the objective of the workforce overhaul was to “transform ESU in the best interest of our students” and come to terms with the university’s structural deficits. It shouldn’t be viewed as a cost-cutting exercise, the president said, but in terms of a transformation or modernization of the campus.
On-campus enrollment at Emporia State plummeted 24% from 2017 through 2021, ESU officials said. Put a different way, ESU’s full-time equivalency enrollment stood at 4,602 in 2016. It slid to 4,416 by 2019, 4,314 in 2020 and 4,016 in 2021 — a five-year decline of 11.6%.
At the six universities in the Board of Regents system, full-time equivalent enrollment has declined 8.6% over this five-year period. The Board of Regents won’t release fall 2022 enrollment reports for the universities until the end of September.
On Friday, the Faculty Senate at ESU approved a resolution urging the Board of Regents to reject the effort to undermine tenure at the university. Some ESU students objected to the president’s decision to align campus resources with “programs that excel,” raising questions about degree options in the future.
ESU administrators said last week they would seek permission from the Board of Regents to exercise provisions of the board’s workforce management policy.
The policy was hatched in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide campus administrators liberty to abbreviate the process of removing employees. The policy grants the ESU administration the ability to suspend, dismiss or terminate any university employee based on performance evaluations, research or teaching productivity as well as low enrollment, operational costs or falling revenue.
Program discontinuance based on problematic credit-hour production and enrollment trends is expected to influence which faculty and staff were let go at Emporia State, but adjustments must be initiated before the Board of Regents policy lapsed in December.
No other state university in Kansas has gone on record with plans to make use of the workforce policy.
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