EMPORIA, Kan. — Police escorted Emporia State University President Ken Hush to his office after students organized a sit-in at Plumb Hall Friday morning.
About 100 students were at the sit-in throughout the day. The protest comes after two days of layoffs at the university.
“Campus police were already there, which is standard operating procedure any time there is free expression on our campus,” Gwen Larson told Kansas Capitol Bureau on Friday. “I think they just escorted the President in. I don’t believe that there was a particular request or reason.”
Larson said that, as of Friday, 33 faculty and staff members have been told that they are being laid off.
The move has upset students and staff in some of the departments experiencing cuts.
University student, Cadence Wooge, who organized the sit-in, said some of her classes had been cancelled, after professors received word of their dismissal.
“I had a couple of teachers… I know, personally, two of my teachers today cancelled classes for personal reasons,” Wooge said. “A few others have also cancelled, because either they want to support students in this or they have been dismissed as well.”
Students also expressed concern that administrative offices have been blocked off with an “authorized personnel” only sign, despite the university’s “open door” policy.
Larson said that the “authorized personnel” signs that were put in place on Friday, were not implemented because of the protest. Instead, she said it was put in place as a “safety” measure.
One day after the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) accepted a framework that gave Hush unprecedented authority to “suspend, dismiss, or terminate any university employee,” dismissals began.
Hush told KBOR 7% of the staff would be affected, however, when asked, the university how many people were employed by the school they would not give an exact number.
“I realize this can be both unsatisfying and frustrating. These steps are necessary, however, to move us toward an exciting, successful future,” Hush said in a written statement.
According to the university, the vast majority of impacted employees will have the opportunity to remain at ESU through May 2023, which is the end of this academic year, and will have the opportunity to receive three months’ severance pay at that time.
“I am deeply concerned about the possibility of this being retaliatory. One has to admit the optics aren’t great. Also, the numbers for journalism, the program I direct (we have a journalism minor and a second teaching field BSE licensure) have been steadily climbing over the past year, so I’m a bit confused as to the rationale,” said Max McCoy, an ESU professor.
McCoy, an advisor to the Bulletin, the school’s newspaper, said he is “deeply concerned about the future of the newspaper, journalism and the students.”
Although KBOR has given state schools the authority to dismiss tenured staff, no other university has done so. Other universities, which also saw a decline in enrollment, have found other ways to increase revenue and manage costs.
Even with declining enrollment rates over the past five years, Andra Stefanoni, a spokeswoman for Pittsburg State told Kansas Capitol Bureau that they have not implemented the temporary workforce management policy.