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The AAUP Launches Investigation into Emporia State University Mass Layoffs

The AAUP has authorized an investigation into the Emporia State University administration’s extraordinary summary dismissal of thirty-three faculty members, most of them long-serving professors with tenure.

The process by which these termination decisions were made – without any meaningful faculty participation and without affording the affected faculty members academic due process – appears illegitimate and the terminations themselves appear to involve severe violations of widely accepted principles of academic freedom and tenure.

As the AAUP wrote to the chair of the Kansas board of regents and the president of Emporia State University on September 29, “It is difficult not to construe what has happened at Emporia State as a direct assault on tenure and academic freedom, with grave implications for tenure and academic freedom, not only at Emporia State but throughout the Kansas system of public higher education.”

The ESU administration based its action on a so-called Framework for Workplace Management, made possible by a Kansas Board of Regents policy enacted in January 2021 to address “the extreme financial pressures placed on the state universities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Set to expire on December 31, 2022, the policy suspends existing university regulations governing faculty dismissals for financial reasons. Although the board of regents offered the policy to all system institutions last year, ESU’s president was the only one to ask the board for approval to implement the policy, which he did on September 14. Faculty members received their termination notices the next day.

AAUP standards require an administration to declare that a bona fide financial exigency exists before taking steps to terminate tenured appointments. Tenured appointments are to be terminated as a last resort and only after all other “feasible alternatives have been pursued.” The faculty is to be meaningfully involved in determining that a condition of financial exigency exists and in determining which positions should be eliminated, and affected professors have the right to contest the termination of their appointments in a full hearing before an elected faculty committee.

Affected ESU professors sharply dispute the administration’s claim of an “impending financial and operational crisis” and contend that the faculty was not meaningfully involved in the development of the university’s Framework for Workforce Management. Faculty have also pointed out that the only measure taken to address the purported financial crisis was to terminate mainly tenured appointments and note that the administration provided no rationale for selecting individual appointments for termination. Several faculty members believe they were targeted because of their outspoken criticism of the administration and governing board. 

The ESU investigation will be conducted under the aegis of the Association’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure by an ad hoc committee consisting of previously uninvolved AAUP members from other institutions. After a review of all available evidence and interviews with the affected professors, administrative officers, and other involved parties, the committee will produce a report that will be published online and in the AAUP Bulletin.

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, October 19, 2022