Report on Mass Layoffs at Emporia State

By Michael DeCesare

In May the AAUP published an investigative report concerning the termination, in September 2022, of thirty tenured and tenure-track faculty appointments at Emporia State University. The ESU administration based its unilateral action on a “Framework for Workforce Management” facilitated by an emergency Kansas Board of Regents policy enacted in January 2021. Purportedly addressing “the extreme financial pressures placed on the state universities due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the temporary policy suspended existing university regulations governing the termination of faculty appointments for financial reasons and gave the administration the authority to “suspend, dismiss, or terminate” any professor, tenured or untenured, without involving faculty governance bodies and without affording academic due process to the affected faculty members. Although the board of regents offered the policy to all system institutions, the only chief administrative officer to ask the board for approval to adopt it was the president of Emporia State, who did so on September 14, 2022, just three months before it was set to expire. The affected faculty members received notice the next day that their appointments would end on May 16, 2023.

The investigating committee found that, in effecting the terminations, the ESU administration and the Kansas Board of Regents disregarded AAUP-recommended standards on terminating faculty appointments for financial or programmatic reasons, thus violating the joint 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and Regulation 4 of the derivative Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. It also found that the board’s enactment and reactivation of an emergency COVID-19-related policy allowed system institutions to abrogate existing university regulations comporting in most essential respects with AAUP-supported principles and procedural standards. The board’s action thus initiated a process that assaulted tenure and imperiled academic freedom at Emporia State University. The investigating committee concluded that the termination of faculty appointments, the “realignment” of curricular programs, and the development and approval of the “Framework for Workforce Management” all occurred without meaningful faculty involvement, demonstrating that conditions for academic governance at Emporia State are deficient.