A journalism professor ominously suggests that the restructuring and layoffs at Emporia State University may be “a political maneuver to end tenure” and that “I may be fired for writing this.”
Nonsense, says the university. It’s simply a matter of reducing the offerings of some classes and titles and expanding others to accommodate a changing market — while accommodating a staggering 24% drop in enrollment since 2017.
Changes have already occurred in programs in music, art, computer science and cybersecurity, nursing and diversity, equity and inclusion, says ESU Director of Media Relations Gwen Larson. According to her, more additions and subtractions are being implemented in other academic departments, but no more than 33 announced layoffs are coming.
And while journalism professor Max McCoy writes “laying off faculty members with only 30 days’ notice,” says Larson, faculty members—who make up the vast majority of those being fired—actually have almost a year’s notice: They end the academic year in May , then get three months’ severance pay.
In addition, he says all current students in the affected programs will be able to complete their studies.
McCoy’s op-ed in the online Kansas Reflector was headlined: “Emporia State University Set to Suspend Tenure. Here’s why you should care.” Heartlander asked Larson if there was any truth to that claim.
“No,” Larson said simply, adding that tenured faculty in intact academic areas will retain their tenure and, indeed, some of the new positions offered in the university’s workforce management program will actually be new jobs.
There is a misconception among many outside and perhaps within academia that tenure is a guarantee of employment for life, when in reality it is merely a promise of academic freedom and protection from arbitrary dismissal.
“If you work any other job in the state that doesn’t have a tenured professorship, you can start any day and get fired. And I think that’s the perspective that a lot of the general public has,” Larson says.
American Association of University Professors defines term as “an appointment of indefinite duration that may be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial hardship and program interruption”. The last two circumstances – finances and termination of the program – seem to apply to ESU actions.
Pressed again about McCoy’s claim that ESU was suspending tenure, Larson said, “I would say that was an opinion. If he believes it, he can write it.’
However, the impression that Emporia State is suspending tenure has permeated the Emporia community and educational circles around the state and beyond.
The community’s initial reaction was passionate, if misguided.
“I think there was a lot of emotion when the first announcements came out,” Larson said. “No one wants to think that their neighbor, their friend, is losing their job. After we started sharing some of our future plans, I didn’t hear much negativity in the local community.”
During COVID-19, the Kansas Board of Regents officially approved such workplace management plans at all six Regents universities in the state, extending that authorization through the end of 2022. Emporia State University is the only one to do so so far.
Some states’ colleges and universities are more insulated from market forces — such as Georgia, where lottery dollars provide nearly half of tuition for qualified students. Kansas institutions don’t have that level of luxury, and Larson says state funding has actually declined over the past decade.
Larson points to the changing work environment—and students’ different approaches to education—to bolster the case for updating ESU’s academic offerings.
“My generation went to college to get a degree and then figure out what to do with it. Students [now] they come to us and say, ‘This is the career I want. What do you have that I can take to get me there?” So they’re already coming in with a specific career in mind. And we need to have programs that are designed to get them into that career.”
Despite exceptions for financial and programmatic decisions in its definition of tenure, the American Association of University Professors launched an investigation into Emporia State’s restructuring, calling it “an extraordinary summary dismissal of thirty-three faculty members, most of whom are tenured professors.” with tenure.
“The process by which these termination decisions were made—without any meaningful faculty participation and without affording affected faculty members due academic process—appears to be illegitimate, and the terminations themselves appear to involve serious violations of widely recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure. AAUP wrote in an Oct. 19 statement.
Larson counters that the university’s workforce management plan was thoughtfully executed over time and through discussions with multiple stakeholders.
“This whole restructuring has been a months-long process with a number of people on campus, primarily from the academic side, watching every single thing that we do on campus, especially the programs that we offer. They looked at some of what you would assume would be typical pointers – notations. However, we also looked to the future. We studied job statistics: What are the other jobs that will develop in fields that we don’t even teach yet?
“So, for example, one of our reorganizations that we’ve already shared is cyber security. This is where we build our program because it is a hot field that needs trained people.
“This is a long-term process that looks at everything, looks at it from many different angles. And what Emporia State has done is come up with a plan for academic programs that our students and other data tell us will be relevant in the future.”
Media news somehow tried to connect Emporia State’s restructuring with new university president Ken Hush’s past work for Koch Industries, a frequent scaremonger of the political left.
“Of course, the libertarian Koch brothers started the current culture war during the Obama years with their support of the Tea Party,” McCoy even writes.
Hush left Koch Industries nearly 10 years ago, Larson notes.
“Koch Industries had nothing to do with the work we were doing, the study we were doing, or the reorganization we were doing,” he says. “What Yippee the truth is that our president’s background is business oriented. He’s had a very successful career in international business, and he’s brought all the components of his business background that he understands so well and helped us apply them to Emporia State University – which in itself is big business for Emporia. commonwealth.”
Although McCoy suggests he could be fired for speaking out, when asked about any repercussions — or even university discussions with him about the claims in his article — Larson said there would be none.
“Freedom of speech is a core principle of what Emporia State University believes in,” she said.