A smaller portion of the Emporia State leadership team and Gwen Larson, director of media relations, met with The Bulletin Wednesday morning to discuss the recent events following 33 faculty and staff dismissals last Thursday.
The team included:
Nyk Robertson, senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion
Joann Brewer, interim provost and dean of the Teacher’s College
Brent Thomas, dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Gary Wyatt, associate provost and dean of the Honors College
Jerald Spotswood, dean of the Graduate School
The leadership team, a group of about 30 individuals formed by President Ken Hush, consists of students, faculty, administrators and community members who advise Hush in decisions, as described by Shelly Gehrke, vice president for enrollment management and student success.
A portion of the team met with The Bulletin on Wednesday and discussed how they analyzed data on enrollment trends and programs, in order to make decisions based on the framework, according to Robertson.
The Framework, also known as the Workforce Management Framework, is a justification to dismiss employees recently approved by the Kansas Board of Regents by Emporia State University on Sept. 14.
On Sept. 15, the day after the Framework was approved, ESU dismissed 33 faculty. This Q&A was edited for clarity and length.
Last week the university dismissed 33 faculty and staff. What is the plan going forward?
Larson: That is something that I am hopeful you are going to see very soon, perhaps even this week. What we won’t be able to do for the next phase is put out one communication that says, “This is everything that’s happening.” There are plans to roll out by department programs and it will show how resources will be realigned within that particular department or program. I think that once we have one of those out the door, the entire process might make a little more sense to people.
Will there be more dismissals?
Wyatt: No. That’s a really good question and from everything I understand, that phase is over.
How much money exactly is ESU saving by dismissing these employees?
Brewer: I think part of what you need to understand with this is a much larger picture. This isn’t a budget cut, although it appears that way right now, and I understand that. It’s really about a strategic realignment for Emporia State University.
For a number of years now ESU has been functioning on what’s considered “deficit spending.” We’re at a point where we had to make some decisions that probably should’ve been made a few years ago, and we’re in a situation now.
Moving forward, yes, there will be savings apart of this but a lot of the hope is that we reinvest in Emporia State University’s future to be sustainable at the end of this for our faculty, our staff, our students and our alumni... The last thing that we want to see is Emporia State University just go away.
This was not an easy process for us and it was challenging and it is heartbreaking. But sustainability of ESU was at the forefront of our minds.
Wyatt: I’ve been here 34 years. I’ve been immersed in higher education institutions all my life and one of the real concerns I have in my professional life here is the difficulty that administration has, usually... presidents, in making difficult decisions.
Sometimes one of the choices between being right and being liked was too easy to choose being liked. I’m speculating here, but much of this was three or four years ago (and) some serious decisions should have been made. Nobody made those decisions. They should have been.
One of the lessons I get out of this is you never do anybody a favor by not addressing today’s problems today, by hoping they’ll go away, or leaving them for somebody else. Some of this is cleaning up the mess that was made years ago.
Dean Thomas, would you consider this a budget cut?
Thomas: Not like what we’ve done in the past. Yeah, we are cutting on the front end but that money now gets reinvested. In all the cases in the past, all the budget cuts I’ve ever been a part of before, we eliminate those budget items... and the money’s gone. There’s nothing reinvested and we’re stuck. That’s the distinction.
The professors that just got laid off were given a warning that they could be fired sooner than May 16 and their severance taken away. Is talking to the media on the list of things that could get them terminated early?
Larson: No. Everybody on this campus has rights to free expression. Whether it’s faculty, students, staff like me. And we stand strongly for these rights. If faculty are talking to the media, that’s their privilege and they can do so.
Twenty-three out of the 33dismissed faculty were from Liberal Arts and Sciences. What’s the plan for those going forward?
Thomas: There will be significant reinvestments in the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and unfortunately, it’s not something that I can share, right today, as much as I would like to.
In the email that announced the framework, it said that the framework was prioritizing students. Based on the feedback from students, they disagree. Can you explain how this policy prioritizes students?
Thomas: The best way to explain that is when we can begin sharing with you the reinvestments and how that’s going to improve the quality of those programs, then I think everybody will be able to judge for themselves if that’s truly gonna improve the quality for our students in those programs.
Would it have been possible to announce the framework a week before it had been announced?
Spotswood: Previous budget cuts have been very much college by college... That’s not a strategic process. It doesn’t get out the programs that are performing poorly.
We all sat down together and said, we’ve got to come to some resolution. We eliminated, if you will, the bickering and the back-and-forth (and) the turf wars to do this strategically... Would any of us wished for more faculty involvement? I think, yes. Would we have wished for more time? I think, yes.
But for the position of where we’re at, what needed to be done had to happen in the way that it happened. I don’t think any of us are happy about the way things went. That’s not to say we’re not happy about where we see ourselves in the future, but those are different things. This is a time of grief and mourning for many of us. We’ve all been faculty members; we all still teach.
Wyatt: This was horrible. Nobody enjoyed this. I think for most people, we would say, last Thursday was, and we weren’t the ones who were being dis-missed, the worst day of my professional career.