TOPEKA (KSNT) – Emporia State University has responded, after the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) authorized an investigation into the university on Wednesday.

The national organization announced that it’s opening an investigation after the administration’s dismissal of 33 faculty and staff members, most of them long-serving professors with tenure. 

ESU spokesperson Gwen Larson gave the following statement to Kansas Capitol Bureau on Wednesday afternoon:

Emporia State University does not agree with the allegations made by AAUP. We respect AAUP’s wish to investigate, but firmly believe the facts will support that actions taken are in alignment with applicable university policy and the governing policy of the Kansas Board of Regents. ESU is committed to moving forward with strategic reinvestments that deliver elevated, best-in-class programs to today’s students and will ultimately benefit Kansas families and the Kansas workforce.

Gwen Larson

In a press release, Wednesday morning, the AAUP said that the process by which the termination decisions were made appeared “illegitimate.”

“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, involve severe violations of widely accepted principles of academic freedom and tenure.”

American Association of University Professors (AAUP)

The AAUP wrote to the chair of the Kansas board of regents and the president of Emporia State University, in a letter last month. The organization stated, “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.” The policy, set to expire on December 31, 2022, suspends existing university regulations governing faculty dismissals for financial reasons.

The board of regents offered the policy to all system institutions last year, however, ESU’s president was the only one to ask the board for approval for implementation last month. 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 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 financial issues 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 on Academic Freedom and Tenure by an ad hoc committee consisting of previously uninvolved AAUP members from other institutions. After interviews with the affected professors and a review of all available evidence, a report will be produced and published online and in the AAUP Bulletin. AAUP staff members are available to comment on the investigation.