EDITORIAL: ESU’s faculty and staff terminations is an attack on higher education

Illustration+by+Wren+Johnson+%2F+The+Sunflower

Illustration by Wren Johnson / The Sunflower

Emporia State’s new plan to save money is an attack on higher education and the humanities.

ESU has dismissed 33 faculty members since last Thursday, following a plan approved by the Kansas Board of Regents the day before that allowed these dismissals. The plan passed gives ESU the ability to dismiss tenured faculty and terminate degree programs.

The College of Liberal Arts and Science made up 23 of those 33 faculty members dismissed at ESU. One of those dismissed was Max McCoy, the only journalism teacher at ESU and faculty advisor for The Bulletin, ESU’s student newspaper.

Emporia State is widely recognized as a teachers college for students wanting to teach grades K-12. It will be harder for ESU to maintain its level of excellence as a teachers college if humanities teachers are terminated.

A week prior to being fired, McCoy wrote a column for the Kansas Reflector where he discussed the possibility of him being fired for speaking out about ESU’s plan that, at the time, hadn’t been approved by KBOR.

ESU’s president only gave faculty two business days to evaluate before he took the “Framework for Workforce Management” plan to KBOR.

The plan stems from a Kansas Board of Regents policy created in January 2021 as a COVID-19 response for all public Kansas universities. At the time, ESU enrollment in fall 2020 was only down 0.8% from fall 2019, which is 49 students. From Fall 2020 to 2021, that number had gone down by 3.7%.

ESU faced a slight downturn in enrollment, and instead of finding a collaborative solution, they created a plan that has caused irreversible repair to people’s lives.

ESU’s actions are a red flag to instructors wanting to come teach at any universities in Kansas.

Being able to fire those who achieve tenure completely uproots the concept of tenure. Tenure protects faculty’s academic freedom and ability to research without intervention. Most work more than five years to achieve tenure.

Having tenure does not mean faculty are able to do whatever they want without repercussions. They are still subject to performance evaluations and can be fired for unprofessional or harmful behavior.

Specific policies and procedures regarding tenured faculty termination vary at each institution but still adhere to similar guidelines.

These terminations place value on money instead of people; firing experienced faculty gives ESU the option to hire entry-level teachers at a lower salary. To Emporia State University, faculty members are expendable.

ESU’s quick termination stomps on years of hard work. And it is unlikely that terminated faculty will be able to achieve a similar status at another university — if they can at all.

Emporia State’s plan will be something that has lasting repercussions, not just for Emporia, but for all of Kansas.