A petition has been circulating around the Emporia State campus and community following the announcement that the Center for Early Childhood Education (CECE) will be closing and the Butcher Education Center will be demolished.
Interim President Ken Hush announced the closure in an email on May 20, saying CECE will close in August 2023.
This has concerned some students, faculty, staff and community members who have come together under the name ESU Caregivers to speak up.
“I think it’s pretty disappointing, is the nice word to say, that ESU as an institution won’t offer, after this closure there is no plan to offer, any kind of childcare support,” said Erika Martin, assistant professor of biological sciences and one of the authors of the petition. “I think that ESU administration should be acutely embarrassed by that, frankly.”
The petition will be sent to administration and university decision makers, according to Martin. However, it is not asking for ESU to cancel Butcher’s demolition. It is instead asking for continued child care on campus.
“The idea is okay,” Martin said. “If you’re going to close down that facility and maybe that facility is not able to serve in the way it needs to serve for practical, functional purposes, fine. Where are you gonna put it? You can close down that building, demolish that building. You cannot get rid of that service. I think that’s what’s more important here.”
Director of media relations at ESU, Gwen Larson, said that from the discussions she has heard, there is no option to continue providing child care on ESU’s campus. However, she sees no reason why administration will not read the petition when it is presented to them.
As of Friday, the petition had 150 signatures from people who agree with the arguments made on the six-page Google Doc.
Martin says that the most important point made in the petition is that discontinuing child care at ESU would be “hypocrisy.”
Larson acknowledged that “this would be a difficult decision for people to hear” but CECE “just did not fit Emporia State’s mission anymore.”
The petition cites ESU’s strategic plan and diversity and inclusion statement and argues that closing CECE would be in “direct opposition to these commitments.” This decision would also harm student enrollment and retention, according to the petition.
“If ESU values diversity and inclusivity and making an education available to a large population, then they have to put action behind those words,” Martin said. “And if they close down a facility like this, then all of that (is) just lip service. And that is unacceptable.”
In addition to going back on promises of diversity and inclusion, the petition states that closing CECE will directly impact employee retention. It states that because of ESU’s “low salary rates in the industry and locally,” CECE is a “key attraction.”
“It’s pretty well-known that our salary rates are not competitive,” Martin said. “We have lost good candidates because of that. Period. That’s not great.”
The petition states that the decision to close CECE “has already made us reconsider our employment at ESU and look at pursuing jobs elsewhere, where child care is more abundant and reliable.”
Lyon County’s child care crisis comes from a lack of available providers but high demand for it in the local area, according to the KVOE article.
Larson stated that ESU is aware of the child care issues in the community and has been working with a group in Emporia that has been looking at child care needs in the area for years. ESU has been a part of those conversations and will continue to be as long as the group wants them to, according to Larson.
“And in all honesty, I think the new group that has formed and put the petition together could perhaps make quite an impact if they could also join that larger discussion,” Larson said.
Larson was unsure if the group has a name or what that name is and referred The Bulletin to Emporia city manager Trey Cocking. Cocking was unavailable to comment or confirm.
“I think now is a great opportunity to come together to find a solution for the clear child care issue, just not even on campus, just in Lyon County and surrounding areas in general,” Martin said.
Martin is hopeful that ESU’s administration will listen to and value the opinions of their faculty and staff.
“I think that there is obviously a possibility that the administration wants to do the right thing,” Martin said. “I wonder if maybe they forget to look at the forest through the trees on some of these things.”
Larson was unsure who exactly was involved in the decision to close CECE, but said that people from the infrastructure side and the Teacher’s College were a part of the discussion.
Martin said that she has written a letter to administration before about extended parental leave, with positive results.
“I think they do value the opinion of their faculty and staff,” Martin said. “I think that’s been my experience for sure. It’s why I stay at ESU, because I do feel valued.”
Martin believes that there is enough time to work together with administration to create a “generally positive” outcome.
“It is over a year (until CECE closes),” Martin said. “Which, given appropriate prioritization, will allow us to come to a mutually beneficial solution, which will include institution-offered child care. Because it must.”