Some Ohio University professors have recently begun speaking up about their feelings regarding staff reduction plans the university announced Friday.
However, due to the impacts of the pandemic, OU President Duane Nellis said housing and dining refunds to students cost about $18 million. The university has estimated the planned employee reduction will save $11,317,926, according to a previous Post report.
The university implemented its first significant round of employee reductions Friday, according to that same Post report. The round included 140 employees from OU’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. Positions those employees held, for example, are maintenance workers, groundskeepers and culinary workers.
No faculty reductions have been finalized at this point, Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said.
Mandy Berman, visiting professor of English and published author, was informed April 30 her contract would not be renewed.
“This is a significant blow to the department,” Berman said in an email. “I am one of two fiction professors in the English department. Creative Writing is the department's most popular concentration and my courses consistently fill to capacity.”
Berman said other staff members in the fiction department are retiring, including Dinty Moore, director of creative writing. Others are going on sabbaticals in the fall, leaving less faculty support for students in addition to university mandated cuts.
“The creative writing department is going from seven faculty members to five: three poets, one fiction writer, and one nonfiction writer,” Berman said in an email.
Berman also said there is now only one other fiction professor who will be responsible for six graduate students in fiction. That professor, however, is going on sabbatical in the fall, which means those students won’t have a mentor in their concentration next semester.
Berman was the only female prose writer in the department, she said, and was set to be an adviser for Honors Tutorial College theses as well as on a Ph.D. thesis committee.
“I cannot stress this enough: female students NEED mentorship from professors who can access their shared experiences,” she said in an email.
Bernhard Debatin, journalism professor and director of honors tutorial studies in journalism, recently wrote an open letter to President Nellis regarding the staff reduction and expressing his frustrations with the proposed cuts. Those cuts came after Nellis asked university leadership to pause budget reductions during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a previous Post report.
“The promise of not laying off people during the COVID-19 crisis was not meant honestly, it was just made to get us through the semester,” Debatin wrote. “Now that the semester is over, we can fire you because we don't need you any more to get through this COVID-19-ridden semester. That is painfully cynical.”
Debatin said the previous message the university maintained about halting layoffs during the COVID-19 crisis was insincere.
“This left me speechless, horrified, angry, and deeply disappointed,” Debatin wrote in the letter. “Not simply because these cuts directly affect my family, but first and foremost because of the heartless and highly damaging approach that stands behind this.”
Debatin said he fears there is more bad news to come after seeing how departments such as women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, or WGSS, and African American studies, or AAS, were affected, along with custodial staff.
“Furthermore, in the case of the fired faculty, the message is that the programs they represent are irrelevant -- so much for our university's commitment to diversity,” Debatin wrote.
Debatin also said he felt Nellis glossed over and refused to address the cuts in his May 1 “First Friday” message.
“A word of recognition of and compassion with those who are getting laid off would have been at least a sign of humanity,” he wrote.
Debatin said the cuts harm more than just those losing their jobs and expressed his concern that OU will lose alumni support unless something changes.
“I hope, at least for now, that you and other university leaders have the courage to go this path, rather than destroying, piece by piece and pink slip by pink slip, what makes this university an institution of higher education that I used to be so proud of,” he wrote.
The Ohio University chapter of the American Association of University Professors, or OU-AAUP, has been vocal in protesting proposed staff reductions as well.
Loren Lybarger, OU-AAUP president and professor of classics, said the group was “stunned” to learn WGSS and AAS faculty are facing non-renewals of their contracts.
In addition to this, Lybarger said the number of custodial staff laid off indicates the university is proceeding with job cuts despite the announcement that cuts were delayed due to the pandemic, and there was no formal indication the university would proceed with a staff reduction.
“The lack of communication and clarity has created fear, anger, and profound demoralization among all employees,” he said in an email. “It is also deeply disturbing that these actions have targeted two programs—WGSS and AAS—which are critical to advancing the university’s stated commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
Lybarger said OU-AAUP has informally heard more job cuts are coming in the future. The group is concerned about how those cuts could undermine values such as academic freedom, tenure and shared governance between administration and faculty.
Students will discover they not only have more limited access to faculty, but certain majors and programs may cease to exist, Lybarger said.
“We have heard from many of our students, who are worried about what all this means,” Lybarger said in an email. “Some of our students have launched their own campaigns to support the faculty. We have awesome students who are also making their voices heard!”
Lybarger said OU-AAUP members have been writing to Nellis, releasing statements to media outlets both locally and nationally and have been working with active alumni.
“We have also created a support group for vulnerable faculty and are assisting with the cases of individual faculty by providing advice and references to legal assistance,” he said in an email. “We are a united faculty, and we are making our voices heard.”
OU-AAUP is planning responses to the recent staff reduction and the future effects of it, Lybarger said. He said OU-AAUP welcomes anyone’s participation in protecting OU by focusing on its faculty, staff and students.
Lybarger said there are other ways to respond to this financial crisis.
“We need transparency and a true spirit of collaboration that brings faculty into the center of the decision-making process if we are going to turn things around here,” he said in an email.