AAUP asserts faculty dismissals at Emporia State a ‘grave’ threat to academic freedom, tenure

ESU says 33 laid off ahead of investments in music, ceramics programs

By: - September 30, 2022 4:22 pm
The American Association of University Professors urges Emporia State University to rescind dismissal notices issued to as many as 33 faculty in wake of the personnel shakeup ordered by ESU president Ken Hush. (Margaret Mellott/Kansas Reflector)

The American Association of University Professors urges Emporia State University to rescind dismissal notices issued to as many as 33 faculty in wake of the personnel shakeup ordered by ESU president Ken Hush. (Margaret Mellott/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A representative of the American Association of University Professors denounced methods relied upon by Emporia State University to terminate faculty under a policy created by the Kansas Board of Regents to help state universities more easily address financial and personnel problems.

Michael DeCesare, program officer with the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance and a former sociology professor at Merrimack College, sent a letter to ESU president Ken Hush and to Jon Rolph, chairman of the Board of Regents, complaining ESU administrators in September ignored AAUP and ESU procedural standards related to dismissal of faculty.

“Absent countervailing information,” DeCesare said, “the AAUP is compelled to regard the administration’s actions that resulted in the termination of tenured appointments as having been taken without a legitimate basis.”

He urged ESU administrators to rescind notices of termination issued nine faculty members named in his letter as well as two dozen of their colleagues similarly sacked.

“It is difficult not to construe what has happened at Emporia State as a direct assault on tenure and academic freedom with grave implications for tenure and academic freedom not only at Emporia State but throughout the Kansas system of public higher education,” DeCesare said.

The Board of Regents didn’t respond to a request Friday for comment.

Gwen Larson, spokeswoman with Emporia State, said she wouldn’t comment on the AAUP letter.

“As for the layoffs, a total of 33 faculty and staff were laid off under the ESU framework for workforce management. Out of empathy and respect for our co-workers, we are not releasing any information that could potentially identify them,” Larson said.

ESU did announce the administration decided to invest in hiring of a professor of music education and a director of choral activities.

The university previously said it would hire three tenure-track faculty to teach ceramics, graphic design and art history. The university also planned to hire an art instructor and gallery director. ESU vowed to invest more than $1 million in King Hall, which serves the art department.

“This is a transformational time for the department to better serve students and the community,”  said art department chairman James Ehlers. “In the coming months we will be working on curricular changes and honing the details of what these positions will do for the department.”

DeCesare, speaking on behalf of the nine faculty informed Sept. 15 of their termination, alleged Hush disregarded key elements of a 1940 statement of academic freedom and tenure contained in the university’s policy manual.

“Our association’s keen interest in these cases is further intensified by allegations that some appointments may have been selected for termination because the faculty members in question were outspokenly critical of the administration and governing board,” DeCesare said.

Some ESU faculty targeted for dismissal will remain employed through May 2023.

Dismissed employees have the option of appealing within 30 days through the Board of Regents’ office — not the university — for an administrative hearing.

The Board of Regents directed that internal faculty rules at ESU, University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Fort Hays State University, Pittsburg State University and Wichita State University wouldn’t be applicable to personnel changes brought under the alternative management policy scheduled to expire Dec. 31.

The Board of Regents’ special policy emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic and freed the six universities from an obligation to declare a financial emergency as a prerequisite to suspension, dismissal or termination of certain university employees.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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