A former interim president of Emporia State University asked the Kansas Board of Regents to rescind dismissal of 33 faculty under a new policy streamlining layoffs. ESU students responded to the firings with vigils and protests in September. (Mason Hart for Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — A former interim president of Emporia State University contends mass dismissal of more than 30 faculty brands the institution as a higher education outcast and undermines recruitment and retention of quality students and faculty.
Ed Flentje, who served as interim ESU president in 2011, expressed concern in a letter to Jon Rolph, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents. His request the Board of Regents rescind removal of 33 faculty mirrored a plea by a representative of the American Association of University Professors, who denounced the firings as an intrusion into academic freedom.
“I believe the regents’ actions will lead to the decline and eventual closure of the university,” Flentje said. “The vision of the mass firing will lead to a prosperous future for Emporia State is complete fantasy.”
Flentje said students in English and other academic programs targeted for cuts by ESU president Ken Hush would look for new opportunities at other colleges and universities. As prospective students decided to seek an education elsewhere, Flentje said, ESU enrollment would further erode.
In addition, Flentje said, more classes at Emporia State would be taught by part-time adjunct professors “who have little stake in the future of the university and less interest in student success.”
He said ESU’s “pariah” status would send a message to existing and prospective faculty their future at Emporia State would be uncertain. ESU faculty and staff identified by administrators as a priority will continue to face competition for scarce dollars, he said.
“Budget-minded state lawmakers will increasingly question added spending at the university,” Flentje said. “Potential donors will raise the same questions. When the next inevitable budget crunch confronts state lawmakers, Emporia State’s future will be given heightened scrutiny.”
Flentje was a student and administrator at Emporia State, earned a doctorate at University of Kansas and served on the faculty for years at Wichita State University, where he was part of the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs from 1986 to 2008. For a five-month period in 2011, he was interim president at ESU.
The state Board of Regents created a policy during height of the COVID-19 pandemic granting the six universities in the public university system the authority to initiate a streamlined method of slashing the campus workforce. The policy included dismissal of tenured faculty.
KU officials expressed interest, but said repeatedly they had no intention of deploying provisions of a policy scheduled to expire Dec. 31. Neither Kansas State University, Fort Hays State University, Pittsburg State University nor WSU took steps to impose the policy embraced by ESU to deal with financial, enrollment and staffing challenges.
Hush said the policy would be used by Emporia State to better target expenditures in disciplines attractive to students. So far, ESU announced plans to hire personnel in art, music and cybersecurity.
The university president told the state Board of Regents approximately 7% of the university’s staff would be laid off “to move us toward an exciting, successful future.”
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