Emporia State will reorganize its academic structure into schools effective August 2023, eliminating departments and chairs. The announcement was sent to faculty and staff in an email late yesterday, outlining the new schools, interim deans for each and the claimed benefits of the restructuring.
“We will continue to solidify this model so these new schools are in place for the 2023-24 academic year,” the email announcement, signed by Provost Brent Thomas, said. “The accreditation needs of departments have been reviewed and considered in this timeline decision.”
However, not everyone on campus believes the restructuring is good news.
“I think the new restructuring is a mistake,” said Michael Smith, professor and chair of Social Sciences, Sociology and Criminology.
While the announcement said the restructuring was created based on conversation with the campus community, Smith said he is “very concerned” with how big the schools are, saying the deans will be spread too thin.
The academic restructuring is part of the continued process that began with the passing of the Workforce Management Framework, allowing for the firing of 33 professors, including tenured and tenure track faculty, in September 2022.
The email announced four new schools and the interim deans leading, largely accounting for the restructuring of the current College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Additionally, the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Teachers College were listed as having new leadership. Following the listing of these promotions, the email outlined the School of Business & Technology and the School of Library and Information Management & Library and Archives as existing schools with no changes in leadership, but adding programs.
Gwen Larson, director of media relations and internal communication, said she doesn't know how the interim deans were selected or when the permanent deans will be hired, directing The Bulletin to Thomas, the provost who sent the email.
Thomas was out of town and not available for comment, according to Larson.
This announcement follows an April 5 article by the Kansas Reflector reporting on the $137,741 in bonuses awarded to particular faculty members after the firing of the 33 ESU professors last fall, including comments from Emporia Mayor Susan Brinkman. After the Reflector published its story, ESU President Ken Hush responded in an open letter to the Emporia Gazette criticizing the article and saying he was disappointed by Brinkman’s comments.
“I also think that it (the restructuring announcement) is extremely disruptive,” Smith said. “Just in the past few weeks, we have had announcements of laid off faculty being reinstated and a lot of controversy surrounding bonuses and a highly publicized conflict between the university president and the mayor of Emporia. I am very disappointed that they did not move this plan for restructuring back a year to give us time to regroup.”
While the email was sent to faculty and staff of the university, Larson said that she doesn’t know what the plan is for informing students of the restructured schools. She said that it is a situation where students will likely just “start hearing about” the new structure as more plans are finalized.
The administrative structure of each school will be determined after the interim leadership meets with the faculty who will be in that particular college, according to Laron. While these conversations will be held individually, Larson suggested there may be proposed organizational structures denied by the administration.
“So in terms of their school structure, yes, it could be unique,” Larson said. “But for instance, this model does not include department chairs, and I do not believe that bringing back department chairs would be a model we would follow.”
One of the claimed benefits of the restructuring outlined in the email is “a flattened structure that eliminates middle management to improve communication between the Office of the Provost and the academic units.”
Smith objected to the implication that department chairs were middle management. He said that the chairs are “peer leaders” who work alongside faculty and teach in classrooms, having the students’ back and allowing for direct student interaction.
“If there's something going on with the students, if there's something going on with the classroom, we see it because we still teach,” Smith said. “And we're losing that, and I'm very disappointed about that.”
Another listed benefit in the announcement was “improved space optimization.” Larson said that with the chairs being eliminated, there will be offices that can be “repurposed” as part of the plan to better use space on campus.
While this optimization of space is being announced, Smith said that his department is already running into problems. Half of the Department of Social Sciences, Sociology and Criminology is currently being housed in Butcher Education Center, a building slated for demolition.
Some of the offices scheduled to be used as the new location for that half of the department are currently occupied, one of them by a professor that was just announced to be reinstated after they appealed their firing in September.
“We have no other office space,” Smith said. “So we have to figure that out because essentially, we have two people in the same office. This is not the time for a change like this. I think it is ill advised.”
Editor's note: Students recieved the restructuring email as of this morning, April 27.
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