EMPORIA (KSNT) – After receiving backlash over a series of staff cuts and program suspensions, Emporia State University (ESU) is looking to get back on track this school year.

Last September, more than 30 Emporia State faculty members were laid off and several university programs were cut due to financial reasons.

James Ehlers, the interim dean of the Visual and Performing Arts School, told 27 News he’s rolling with the changes. However, he said that doesn’t change how difficult last year’s staffing decisions were for ESU’s campus.

“It’s been a test of my character and obviously a test of character of everyone around us,” Ehlers said.

Regardless of the reason behind the changes, Ehlers says watching his colleagues get pushed out the door wasn’t easy.

“There’s folks that I knew for quite a long time, and I think that that pain was shared by everyone on campus, you know, top to bottom,” Ehlers said.

ESU Provost Brent Thomas told 27 News laying off faculty was not ideal for the university, but that he believes it was necessary. He said he does recognize how painful these changes have been for the Emporia State community.

“When you have declining support from the state, a shrinking demographic of prospective students and also coupled with increasing skepticism of a college education, you have lower college going rates,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, staff and program cuts are going to benefit ESU in the long run.

“You can no longer afford to be all things to all people,” Thomas said. “And at some level , you need to make the decision maybe to do fewer things, but to do those fewer things much better. Reallocate the resources that you have and focus them on doing the programs that you’re still going to do, do them with excellence.”

Ehlers says that’s what the arts school has done. The department has cut several low-enrollment courses, allowing it to condense its programs and increase collaboration within the arts school.

“I do look at this year as an exciting year to begin rebuilding and adding things, and making things work more efficiently and working better within our resources,” Ehlers said.

That doesn’t make things easier, but he says it gives him hope for the future.

“We’ve made it through to the other side and we’re focusing forward and working within the resources we have to really build something,” Ehlers said.

Those still on campus may be looking to bounce back, but this situation is far from resolved.
According to the American Association of University Professors, there are 11 faculty members who have filed a lawsuit against the university and various other stakeholders.

We’ll continue to update you as we learn more.