(This occurs when a college or university cuts tenure-track faculty members. The source of the phrase is chess, where queens are the most powerful piece, as tenure-track faculty are, in theory, the most powerful members of an academic community. In the game giving up the queen is a desperate move, often an attempt to wrest victory from a very bad situation, and so it seems to be for colleges and universities axing people in those positions.)
Emporia State University president Ken Hush submitted a plan to cut certain faculty to the state board of regents. KBOR, which had granted that power to its campuses last year, approved the plan on Wednesday, and Hush then issued a series of firings.
The regents’ policy is fairly broad. The Chronicle summarizes it like so:
According to the approved framework, the university can “suspend, dismiss, or terminate” employees based on factors “such as, but not limited to” low enrollment, cost of operations, reduction in revenues for specific departments or schools, current or future market considerations, restructuring, realignment of resources, performance evaluations, teaching and research productivity, and “low service productivity.” Affected employees can appeal to the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings. The burden of proof is on the employee, and “no discovery will be permitted,” the document says.
Who was cut under this policy? 23 [UPDATED: 33] professors, according to student reporters, from the following departments:
Accounting, information systems, and finance – 1
Art – 1
Biological sciences – 2*
Business – 1
Communication & theater – 2*
Counselor education – 1*
English, modern languages and journalism – 5*
Music – 3
Physical sciences – 2
Social sciences, sociology and criminology – 5*
*numbers have been confirmed by department chairs
I'm being dismissed from my Tenure Track position at Emporia State University in May. The university used a process approved by KBOR that bypassed faculty shared governance to eliminate numerous tenured, TT, and non-TT faculty.
— Douglas L. Allen, PhD (@dallen_critgeo) September 15, 2022
Students and faculty protested the cuts.
These cuts to certain departments seem to go along with shifting university resources to other departments:
“Going forward, ESU will realign resources in programs that sit squarely in our strike zone,” said Hush. “For example, ESU excels in programs like nursing, biology, technology, business, psychology and teacher education. In fact, we are further refocusing and reenergizing some of our teacher preparation programs. No one does teacher education better than Emporia State University!”
Why is this occurring? As per most queen sacrifices, the institution is feeling “extreme financial pressures,” according to local media. My readers will be unsurprised to learn that the cause of those pressures is the combination of COVID and a drop in student numbers. The latter is steep, according to this official statement: “on-campus enrollment declined 24 percent between 2017 and 2021,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
- There was no declaration of financial exigency, although the administration highlighted economic pressures as paramount.
- Emporia did not conduct an academic program prioritization effort to determine which units and people to cut. According to the Chronicle, they deliberately avoided this action:
Brent Thomas, the interim provost, painted the process Emporia State used as considerate of the faculty. At the Wednesday board meeting, he said that it would be “unwise, harmful, and frankly unethical to ask faculty to make decisions about people and programs across the entire university. We did not believe that we should put our faculty into situations where they were forced to point at one another as targets for restructuring.”
- Cuts fell across the curriculum. The humanities seemed to catch about half of the ax blows, but social and natural sciences were hit as well.
- ESU’s latest news release uses a lot of euphemisms to set the state for the queen sacrifice, like “the framework would allow ESU the flexibility to realign resources to address the university’s structural deficits that have been ongoing for several years, accelerated by COVID.” There is also a futures theme in describing this action as part of a strategy called: “Forward Focused, Future Ready.” (italics in original)
- The regents’ policy is really open-ended. How many other states will follow suit? And are appealing faculty actually denied discovery?
- President Hush (a Dickensian name) is an interesting person. He’s an Emporia alumnus, as well as a former board member. He lacks any advanced degrees and apparently donated significantly to a Koch brothers fund. Professor Max McCoy sees that funding as one sign Hush is aligned with an anti-academic Republican state government.
- McCoy also views the cuts as the suspension of tenure at Emporia State, and writes that he fears losing his job for saying so. It certainly looks like it.
As I have said before, keep an eye out for more such queen sacrifices. That move seems to have become an established one in American higher education.