EMPORIA (KSNT) – A document distributed to the Emporia State University faculty on Wednesday, Sept. 7, outlines the course of action the new President of the University, Ken Hush, wants to be approved by the faculty.

Hush met with the Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday in Topeka. At the conclusion of the meeting, the board approved of the document.

Hush claims in the document that “extreme financial pressures placed on universities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, decreased program and university enrollment,” putting ESU in a precarious position financially.

“Enrollment in four-year institutions has been in consistent decline for more than five years both nationally and at Emporia State University. Enrollment has declined since 2017 and been accelerated by Covid. From 2017 through 2021, Emporia State’s on-campus enrollment has declined by 24%,” Emporia State director of media relations Gwen Larson said.

Hush concedes in the document that ESU is not “facing financial exigency.” However he does note the “financial and market situations require a restructuring which will require modification, reorganization, suspension, or elimination of certain operations, programs, and curriculum.”

“ESU… spent over 1,000 hours in an extensive and thorough analysis process. Led by academic and administrative leaders on campus, the group studied a wide variety of data (most of which is public) including program and enrollment trends, employer needs, state, and national job growth projections, student interest, program profit and loss information, department sustainability and efficiencies and cultural and community contribution. The results of this analysis are aligned with preliminary findings by RPK,” Larson said.

The ESU Faculty Senate told Kansas Capitol Bureau they had little or no input on the policy, which they only received last week.

The document does note that a declaration of financial exigency shall not be required for any suspension, dismissal, or termination and no existing university policy hearing procedures shall apply to such decisions.

The framework will include a decision to suspend, dismiss, or terminate any university employee based on factors including low enrollment, cost of operations, reduction in revenues for specific departments or schools, and current or future market considerations such as the need for a program or department, restructuring of a program, department, or school as determined to be necessary, realignment of resources, and performance evaluations, teaching and researching productivity, low service productivity, or conduct of the employee.

The document states that consideration of students’ ability to complete degree requirements will be taken into account, or if those courses are offered by other universities or community colleges in Kansas.

Students and staff at the university questioned why Hush would move forward with the new workforce policy plan without further input.

“I wish the Regents would talk to faculty members,” University Professor Max McCoy told Kansas Capitol Bureau on Wednesday. “I know they’ve talked to Hush, obviously, but I wish the Regents would just come and talk to rank and file faculty members, both tenured faculty, instructors, adjuncts, GTAs, because they need to hear what we have to say about the plans for this university, which is our home.”

The Kansas Board of Regents adopted a temporary workforce management policy in 2021 to give state universities flexibility to address the financial challenges created by declining enrollments and the pandemic. Because enrollment declines continue to pose a long-term challenge, in June the Board extended the sunset of the policy to Dec. 31, 2022.

According to Board Chair John Rolph, universities are not required to use the policy. 

“Each institution has had difficult decisions to make, but there isn’t a single solution,” Rolph said in a statement to Kansas Capitol Bureau on Wednesday. “That was something that the Board considered when adopting this policy. It was designed to give state university CEOs increased flexibility to manage long-term challenges and develop a solution that would be best for the financial health and mission of the institution.”

Rolph stated that ESU President Hush has been “transparent for a long time” about changes that would be required to “put the university on strong footing for the future.”

“In January he first solicited feedback from all of campus about how they could change their operations and way of doing things to meet their challenges and better position the university for the future. The university has continued to request input. Leadership presented the framework to shared governance, and it’s my understanding that they made changes to the proposal based upon the feedback they received.”

Chair John Rolph, Kansas Board of Regents

However, students and staff at the university have criticized the “lack of transparency” in Hush’s process.

Students held a protest Wednesday morning, chanting “Stop the Cuts!” outside Plumb Hall at ESU.

Protesters demanded answers from Hush on why he has yet to address student concerns about potential faculty and program changes to their departments. Some also expressed their concern about graduating from their chosen major under the university’s plan to “restructure.”

Michael Morales, an Associate Professor and Faculty Senate member at the university, said their concerns are valid.

“If the President says it’s for the students’ benefit, that’s not correct… the current students now, some of them, will suffer a lot,” Morales said. “Their programs will be cut, their majors will be cut, their departments will be subsumed with other departments…”

In August, comments made by Hush upset elements in the community when he said, “I laugh when I hear that because they’re not understanding the overall high-level concept” when referencing the shutting down of a childhood education center on campus.

Ken Hush was named the 18th president of Emporia State University on June 22, transitioning from the interim president after being chosen to lead the university by the Kansas Board of Regents.

To see the document that was under discussion today, look below: