Editor’s Note: Bella Eppens, editor-in-chief of The Bulletin, sat with newly-appointed Emporia State President Ken Hush on June 27 to discuss his vision for the upcoming school year. Hush has a dual business administration and marketing degree from Emporia State and formerly worked as CEO of BLI Rentals, and president and executive officer of Koch Minerals and Carbon LLC. Hush was ESU interim president (November 2021- June 2022). This interview was edited and trimmed for length and clarity.
As you speak of (leading from a place of) adaptation, do you plan to get students' input on important decisions and changes for the university? What about faculty and staff?
Absolutely. And we have. Every three [or] four weeks, we meet with faculty senators, the vice-chair, the vice president and the president…We've been doing cross-campus discussions, and all of us [administrators] have been around campus in various ways. We're continuing to solicit opinions and ideas.
We're asking for people and students' comments, and they're giving them to us. It's interesting. The needs of our students are evolving pretty quickly. Students are acting differently now than they were on the front side of the COVID-19 (pandemic), and hopefully, you have seen some of the initiatives we're (doing to) respond to the student needs.
Corky's Cupboard will be fully funded, and a coordinator hired; that's a full-time role, and that's what students were wanting. We're excited about that. We want to improve the experience that students have on campus because that was one of my biggest memories; the experiences. It's part of a retention strategy to keep students here because a lot of them drop out or don't come back.
With your vision for the university, you mentioned quite a few changes. What will be your number one priority?
Evaluate all the options so we get better and more creative…We're making changes. We'll go forward.
You’ve mentioned taking a business approach to running the university. What exactly does that mean?
I have never looked at it like that, because that’s a pretty narrow scope. At the end of the day, we're a $100 million organization here. (A business model) is a very large scope, and it's just a process of how you evaluate things. What do you want it to invest in? What do you don't? What makes the most sense?
In my world, change, adaptability and looking at all the different things – these are normal. You gather people with talent and the ability to make good decisions and you talk it over and consensus. Not everybody's going to agree but consensus to move it right.
Are there any departments that you feel need special attention or changes more so than others? Or need to be reevaluated or reassessed?
I don't have any at the top of my mind. We're looking at everything across the board and, frankly, the deans are leading. We're just going to look across campus where we can, evaluate, look at the data and analyze. For clarifications sake, I hear a lot of rumors, too, and it cracks me up. I don't know who sits around and makes some of this stuff up, but it is interesting. They're saying, ‘Hey, it's only the programs that are economical today.’ It's not true at all. That's just one of the ways that we evaluate.
The rpk GROUP is an outside organization that will assess our programs and resources which could lead to the restructuring or elimination of certain programs. What steps are you taking to prepare the university for this?
We've been communicating since early December about how we're looking at things across campus. We've been doing that with staff, faculty, and students. We're meeting continuously with the Faculty Senate, ASG, (and) groups across campus. We're in the process of preparing. We don't know what the outcome will be, but at the same time, we're ongoing with all of our evaluations, currently, across the whole university institution.
I have no idea. We're going through that process in the early stages now…I think it's an option. We've got challenges ahead of us from a fiscal standpoint that we've got to address…and you've got the rpk (assesment) that will come in towards the end of the year. It's June now, and through the end of the year, we'll continue to scrub, evaluate and analyze data, and consider the feedback we get.
We have an active group representing the faculty through the Faculty Senate, so I think it'll be a good exchange of information. We'll talk a lot and at the end of the day, the university will have to make its decision, but we'll listen.
There have been a lot of changes with people leaving and coming into the university, so is the position of president a long-term commitment for you?
Yes, we’ve had some retirements. Imagine working your whole life, then all the sudden they’ve worked hard and now they want to go out and enjoy their lives. My guess is that you’ll be jumping for joy (when you reach) that time. I’m happy for them. People move on.
We’ve had the talent drain (as) people leave to go elsewhere. But, at the same time, look what it’s doing for others in the organization. It’s creating opportunities for them to come up. There have been some great ideas and people in lower parts of the organization (that) weren’t heard. All of a sudden, now everybody has a voice in some form or another. It’s an exciting opportunity.
I’m going to stay as long as we get the train on the tracks from a sound perspective. I don’t know how long that is. Yes, I am a different type of leader for a university. (In) my background, I was constantly changing roles depending on the needs of customers and the markets and things. Our customers are students and so it’s an equivalency there. We’ll take it one day at a time, but if there’s a way to get better, let’s find it.