The protests of Ohio University’s past, like the one that took place on College Green in November 2019, are nearly impossible today.
In the age of social distancing, organizations voicing their opinions on OU’s alleged budget crisis have taken to social media to get their messages across. Although there was a motorcade rally organized by an OU union and the OU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, much of the conversation surrounding OU’s budget crisis has taken place on social media.
Save OUr Professors was started as a social media movement by Olivia Gemarro, a rising senior studying English creative writing and sociology-criminology pre-law, who was unhappy with the recent proposed faculty cuts and employee reductions and wanted to spread information about the budget crisis.
In the first few days, Gemarro said, Save OUr Professors saw an increase of around 1,200 followers, with many individuals retweeting and interacting with the account’s tweets. The account has garnered attention from students, alumni and faculty.
The account has taken the movement beyond Ohio University, Gemarro said, with the account receiving attention from other groups around the country.
“We've been retweeting not only students and alumni opinions … but I've also been connecting with other chapters of the AAUP ... from different schools,” Gemarro said. “I've been reaching out to different professors to kind of get their feelings on this and get updates of who is being let go.”
Save OUr Professors has been maintained by Gemarro and Autumn Murphy, a rising senior studying history, with others retweeting and sending emails to the university’s administration.
Some of their popular tweets include those highlighting professors who are at risk of losing their jobs amid budget cuts and pictures of signs taken throughout campus, featuring phrases like “Thanks for the tree, but what about quality degrees?”
The account also features tweets from students, alumni and professors voicing their opinions as well as information from other organizations.
Save OUr Professors was also involved in the recent motorcade rally.
The motorcade rally took what has been happening on social media to campus, with about 200 attendees circling College Green in their cars and an AAUP representative delivering a petition to Cutler Hall.
For OU’s chapter of the AAUP, chapter President Loren Lybarger, a professor of classics, said the group had been working on their social media presence even before the COVID-19 pandemic. That was important to the chapter because it is part of a national organization.
“We link with other chapters as well as the state organization and the national organization,” Lybarger said. “We're able to not only communicate that way, but also ... share messaging.”
The importance of social media has shifted amid the pandemic, Lybarger said. Additionally, he said OU AAUP has seen an increase in its following and engagement, both before and after the pandemic.
“We have made an effort to shine a sharp, critical light on it, our budget analysis and so forth,” Lybarger said. ”The use of social media has been a tool for us to get a message out to and to get our message out beyond just Athens.”
Lybarger said he believes Ohio University is garnering attention because of the way the cuts are moving forward, especially with the university cutting faculty that line up within its core goal of diversity.
Lybarger also said he feels there are concerns around the university not renewing tenure track faculty.
“This is an exceptional time, and we totally recognize that, but we feel like there are other ways to do this,” Lybarger said. “So we've been using our social media to advocate for thinking about how we can be a different kind of university, a university that can prioritize the importance of shared governance between faculty and administration; a university that can place its priority on the faculty and staff, and ensuring that the university remains whole, even through this unprecedented crisis.”
The use of social media activism in response to budget cuts is not limited to those advocating for faculty. Eliza Ivan, a junior studying political science and sociology, has been advocating for classified workers who are hoping to unionize.
Ivan has been advocating online to get support from student organization presidents to sign a letter to the administration supporting the staff at OU. She has garnered support using Facebook and GroupMe.
“I work with a library and ... my bosses are considered classified staff, so their jobs are in danger,” Ivan said. “There are people that have really changed my experience here …. I got really sick freshman year. They offered to take me to the hospital and get me medicine. You know, you never see an administrator doing that.”
Ivan said OU President Duane Nellis has previously turned down the classified workers’ request to unionize.
Many students have also shared information and their thoughts using social media to support the faculty and staff during the budget crisis cuts.
Madison Saylor, a junior studying sociology pre-law and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said she has taken to social media to voice her opinions and let everyone know what is going on.
Saylor has also discussed the budget crisis with members of her pre-law fraternity, Phi Alpha Delta, and discovered that they could email the Board of Trustees.
“With the whole pandemic and everything going on, we really can't get together to rally against this,” Saylor said. “I think social media is very important in this case because it gives everybody a chance to express their feelings … I think it makes the faculty who are in the situation feel really supported.”