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Students stand outside Cutler Hall on Nov. 25, 2019 to protest Ohio University's budget crisis and proposed staff cuts. 

Students and faculty hold protest in support of university professors

About 200 people gathered on College Green at the Civil War Soldiers Monument on Monday afternoon to oppose Ohio University’s proposed budget cuts that could result in the termination of professors.

The protest was organized by OU Fun Facts, a group of students who are trying to spread the word about how proposed budget cuts would directly affect the number of faculty members at OU. 

The protest began with speeches given by Alex Armstrong, a senior studying French, Sam Debatin, a sophomore studying art history, and Isaac Stern, a junior studying economics. All three are members of OU Fun Facts and helped to organize the protest.

Armstrong stood on the statue and criticized an email that OU students received from the Office of OU President Duane Nellis Monday morning that said the university is not actually undergoing a financial crisis.

The email discussed how a drop in enrollment and responsibility centered management strategies have led to the need to reduce the number of full-time faculty members employed at the university, which will be done through “strategic retirements, targeted voluntary separation agreements for tenured faculty, and the tactical elimination of most open positions.”

Armstrong claimed the email was not true.

“They’re telling us that this is misinformation. We know that is not true,” Armstrong said. “But you know what, this is a victory. We have the upper hand, because the email that they sent off today, it was scared … but frankly, they made a mistake. They let us respond. But we know what’s up.”

The email also said the information stated in the “10 fun facts” flyers that OU Fun Facts have put online and around campus is “misinformation (that) has been shared with the specific intent of causing disruption.” 

“I think (Nellis) is right, this is a disruption,” Sam Debatin said. “But that’s how these conversations happen. You can’t have a conversation about fixing the status quo without this kind of disruption.”

Bernhard Debatin, a journalism professor, said if what Nellis said in the email is true, it could be a good thing for faculty members. He said the email denies OU is in a budget crisis, which means faculty should not be cut as many believed would happen.

“I also think it’s good that there was a reaction to this letter from President Nellis which, I think, left everybody puzzled, because suddenly it seems that we don't have a budget crisis after we had been told there's a huge budget crisis, and suddenly it said there will be no faculty cuts after we had been told that there will be faculty cuts,” Bernhard Debatin said. 

After the prepared speeches, other students, faculty and residents of Athens were invited to give speeches or share their frustrations on the budget crisis. Students in the crowd yelled out to Armstrong about how much money the university was planning on cutting from their colleges.

The OU chapter for the American Association of University Professors published a budget analysis last week that cites increased spending on administration for what current university budget projections predict will be about a $19.3 million reduction over the next four years.

Jacob Chaffin, a 2014 alumnus who graduated with a degree in education and who currently works with the Rutgers University chapter for the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers, said OU administration could have predicted this decline in revenue a decade ago. 

“They have ruined the education here at OU,” Chaffin said. “They forced this to happen and now they’re trying to square the budget on the backs of faculty and students and that’s not correct. What causes lower enrollment? People can’t afford to come here anymore and that’s the reality of it. This used to be a working-class university and it’s not anymore. And they know that.”

Members of OU Fun Facts eventually encouraged the members of the protest to walk across College Green to Cutler Hall, where protesters called for Nellis to come out and speak about the email.

Eric Burchard, director of government relations for OU, came out of Cutler Hall to ask if Armstrong and Sam Debatin would like to schedule a meeting with Nellis or Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones. Burchard told the organizers that Nellis had an important meeting soon. 

Ohio University Police Chief Andrew Powers stood in the doorway of Cutler Hall, while Armstrong, Sam Debatin and members of the Athens Revolutionary Socialists stood on the steps.

Caity Gampp, a sophomore studying global studies, asked Burchard about whether or not Nellis holds open office hours for students. After a few minutes, Armstrong said Nellis had not held open office hours since January.

After a few more minutes, Burchard walked back into Cutler Hall and Powers closed the door, leaving the group of students and faculty outside chanting for Nellis to come out.  

Armstrong said the OU Fun Facts group was only organized about a week ago following the release of the OU AAUP budget analysis.

Armstrong also said the protest was a good start, but the next step is to get in contact with the Board of Trustees. He said OU Fun Facts will soon put out an email template students can use to send to the Board of Trustees to express their concerns.

“Students have power, we have the power of the purse” Armstrong said. “For Thanksgiving, you’re going to see your family. Say ‘mom, dad, s--t is not okay at Ohio University.” 

Taylor Burnette and Maddie Bussert contributed to this report. 



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