Newly appointed Emporia State president plans to bring business practices to higher education

EMPORIA — For more than seven months, the president’s office at Emporia State University sat nearly empty, filled only with necessities for the interim leader. Ken Hush didn’t plan on making that office his, but the time he spent as interim president persuaded him to apply for the permanent position. 

On Wednesday, he was named the 18th president of ESU.

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“I didn’t see this one coming,” Hush said. “I want to thank the regents for their support and their belief in what we’re doing to make Emporia State better. I want to thank those staff, and faculty who understand the need for change, and for their sacrifices and willingness to share in the effort to move forward.”

Hush, a 1982 ESU alumni, returned to the university as interim president last fall following the departure of Allison Garrett to take a position as the chief executive of Oklahoma higher education. Garrett had been president since 2016.

“We looked at his background, his global expertise, his experience in private industry, the success of his career path,” said Cheryl Harrison-Lee, chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents. “We looked at his passion and commitment. He was a standout student when he was here. He has given back to the university. He’s been involved in the university, and he served at the university, and he lives in the community. That’s passion.”

Hush graduated from ESU with a business degree and later went on to serve on the ESU Foundation Board of Trustees and the Wichita State University Board of Trustees. Before accepting his current position as president, he served as CEO of BLI Rentals, president and executive officer at Koch Minerals and Carbon, and as general manager and director at Senior Commodity Company.

“With my background, we adapted to change every hour every day, every week,” Hush said. “We had no choice. If we didn’t adapt, we may not be in business next week.”

Across the country, not only are retirements on the rise, but more people are also changing jobs. For ESU, that’s meant a high turnover rate for both administrators and professors in the last couple of years.

“We have professors that are also leaving and going into higher paying jobs elsewhere,” Hush said. “We have a talent drain.”

To combat this, a leadership team was formed to prepare for the future and improve connections between administration and faculty. As Hush pushes ahead, he’s looking to implement what he’s learned over the years.

“We believe this is an opportunity to be able to take some of the best practices from the business world and bring them over to the higher education world,” Harrison-Lee said. “We see that as strength. The Board of Regents is considering this an experimental run to see if this works at a regents institution.”

Amid national concerns for humanities departments, Harrison-Lee said Hush’s business experience will bring a new perspective.

“I think it’s going to help the humanities look at ways to be able to transfer into the workforce,” Harrison-Lee said. “I think it’s a different lens, and that lens is actually going to help more with integration and collaboration. We think that perspective that (Hush) brings is a perspective that’s going to really help students develop to be ready for the workforce.”

Overall, the Regents look forward to what’s next for ESU, Harrison-Lee said.

“The regents are really excited about selecting president Hush,” Harrison-Lee said. “One of the strengths that we think that he brings to the table is the ability to take that business background, the innovation, the entrepreneurship, the flexibility, the ability to be nimble, and apply that to higher education.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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