In an “open letter” to The Emporia Gazette, Emporia State President Ken Hush criticized an investigative story published by a Topeka news outlet, The Kansas Reflector, which revealed thousands of dollars in bonuses given to ESU faculty and accused Emporia’s mayor of making "reckless comments” on the issue.
“I am surprised, however, at the persistent stream of damaging misinformation being driven by a small group’s extremely limited perspectives and personal agendas,” Hush wrote in his letter. “That is partly why we have made the decision to be selective about when and how we respond to various media outlets.”
Hush didn’t give any comment to The Bulletin about his recent letter. April marks nine months that he has granted a formal interview with The Bulletin.
“We respect the media and their role,” Hush said. “But choose not to engage with op-ed articles disguised as ‘news’ that are driven by personal agendas full of vicious accusations.”
The Kansas Reflector article, written by editor Sherman Smith, revealed that $137,741 in bonuses were given to ESU faculty. In order to get this figure, Smith and his team made an official open records request from ESU to which the university requested a fee of $700 to fulfill the request.
“We presented this information to our readers as part of a larger fundraising push,” Smith said. “It wasn't just about the ESU response, but about open records in general and a summer internship that we're looking at.”
Readers of the Kansas Reflector donated more than 10 times over what the newspaper needed to fulfill the request, according to Smith.
“Their (ESU’s) response to my open records request was unlawful in several ways,” Smith said. “They were late in responding to my request. The university charges an unlawful hourly rate for working on open records requests.”
After paying the requested fee and receiving the correct figure from ESU, The Reflector quoted multiple sources in their story including Emporia Mayor and business owner Susan Brinkman who voiced her opinion about the bonuses.
“I'm going to continue to respond to the media,” Brinkman said in an interview with The Bulletin. “And I don't really pick and choose which media outlet. You call and ask, I'll do my very best to represent my community.”
Hush commented on Brinkman's interview with the Reflector in his letter saying that Brinkman’s statements were “reckless” and “cannot be tolerated”. Brinkman said she was surprised by Hush’s mention of her in the letter.
“If my comments in the reflector allowed the needed target for President Hush to feel comfortable at last with an open and transparent dialogue with my community, then I'm happy to take the criticisms in stride as a public servant,” Brinkman said.
Brinkman spent much of her evening speaking with news outlets like The Bulletin after the Gazette published Hush’s letter. She plans to continue to speak with reporters regardless of what quotes are used by the media.
“I'm often misquoted in the media. It doesn't mean that I stopped talking to the media,” Brinkman said. “Personally, that's not the most responsible thing to do. It's to make sure that I'm actually, then, doing a better job communicating. Because, you know, without a functioning free press, our democracy is doomed.”
Director of media relations Gwen Larson told the Bulletin that she would not be giving any comment about the letter, and that she would not and could not send the original letter from Hush to The Bulletin. However The Gazette agreed to share the original letter with The Bulletin.
“That article included uninformed statements, from the Mayor of Emporia no less, that disparaged our faculty,” Hush wrote. “Attacking and insulting their integrity.”
ASG President Bella Price recalls having a conversation with Hush early in the year in which she asked him how he handles the media publishing negative stories about him.
“It was kind of funny,” Price said. “Because he goes, ‘you know, I'll take all the heat, I'll take it all. They can write a million stories about me. And that's all right. But the second they start coming after my students or my faculty, that's when I'll address it’”.
Price concluded that the letter was Hush’s way of following through with his conversation with her at the beginning of the academic year.
“This is one of the first times he's responded like this,” Price said. “And I think it just shows how much he cares for the university, and that he really stuck by what he said to me months and months ago.”
When asked how she thought the letter might affect students Price said that students “don't really keep up with the news” and “probably don't even know what’s happening”.
“Honestly, I don't even know if this is going to affect students,” Price said. “Because I don't really know if they even read the Reflector or even read the Gazette.”
Price also said that many of the ASG senators probably don't know about the recent events. However, at an ASG meeting last Thursday one member did raise concerns during the good of the university.
“My feelings are kind of hurt by what the university is doing right now,” said Sandy Nguyen, ASG senator. “I’m still kind of confused. There was a recent article on the Kansas Reflector talking about the university awarding bonuses to 68 faculty after firing tenured professors. I thought that the main reason was because we did not have enough funding overall.”
Later during the meeting, Nguyen shared some concern about her statement being seen by the university.
“Will I be in trouble for talking about that?,” Nguyen said. “I just don't want the university to come after me.”
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