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OU non-renewed faculty grapple with simultaneous job search, professorial duties

Ohio University professors whose contracts were not renewed are struggling to cope with finding employment elsewhere and feel unsupported by the university as their time at OU comes to a close.

In May 2020, 53 instructional faculty members were notified the university was not going to renew their contracts, according to a previous Post report. The faculty members were given a year’s notice of their contract terminations, which will be occurring at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.

For Heather Edwards, an English professor, the current state of OU’s finances led her to predict that her contract was in jeopardy. 

“(OU has) been talking about budget cuts, and one of the things that always comes up is (contracts),” Edwards said. “In reality, salaries are a big chunk of the money that the university uses, and so for about three years, I would say, there's been this idea that I could potentially not be working here anymore.”

Despite having this knowledge in the back of her head, Edwards’ transition to employment away from OU was not made any easier, especially because she felt she was not given adequate support by the university. At one point, Edwards had to contact human resources multiple times to find out what to do, Edwards said. 

“One of the things that happened for me was it was so devastating to hear that news. I've been here for so long, and I consider myself part of OU and essential to OU in all these ways, and then you're being told that you aren't and that you kind of have to find a new place.”

“There isn't a recognition (by OU) that we were expected to do our job this year. I still have a full teaching load, and I'm supposed to do that and somehow find a job,” Edwards said. “I feel like this idea that we were going to be able to make this fluid move from finding out that we didn't have a job to suddenly finding another job doesn't actually take into consideration what the reality of our positions are. Like I said, there really hasn't been any support along the way.”

As a result of this lack of support, Edwards said she suffered from anxiety and depression but stressed that her work and students at OU helped her make it through. For her, knowing she had to leave OU and Athens was one of the hardest parts of losing her job. 

“One of the things that happened for me was it was so devastating to hear that news,” Edwards said. “I've been here for so long, and I consider myself part of OU and essential to OU in all these ways, and then you're being told that you aren't and that you kind of have to find a new place.”

Elizabeth Thompson, an English professor, was also let go by OU after her contract was not renewed. Similar to Edwards, Thompson experienced a lot of anxiety surrounding her transition in employment. 

“I was experiencing so much stress and anxiety over finding a job … I was kind of like, ‘I really could lose my house. I may not get a job for many, many years,’” Thompson said. “There was a lot of sleeplessness. There was a lot of just general feelings of anxiety and worry and sometimes panic as I contemplated what would happen in the worst-case scenario.”

After sending out 55 job applications, Thompson was able to secure a part-time job in California, where she will be moving. Despite her excitement to start her new job, she agrees with Edwards that some forms of support were lacking. 

According to that same previous Post report, OU has partnered with a third-party company, Careerminds, to help non-renewed faculty with resume building, connecting with recruiters and developing a career marketing plan.

Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said OU put a lot of thought into partnering with Careerminds to assist non-renewed faculty members. 

“Our partners were selected for their experience working with professionals in both academic and administrative fields and were charged with helping impacted employees with support, such as strengthening their resume or CV, developing career marketing plans, and connecting with recruiters,” Leatherwood said in an email. 

Despite those benefits, both Edwards and Thompson felt working with Careerminds was not helpful for them. 

“From my experience and from talking to other colleagues about their experiences, these folks didn't know anything about academic jobs,” Thompson said. “I stopped using the service after about three calls.”

Leatherwood said this is the first time the university has heard concerns from faculty on the usefulness of Careerminds. She also said OU’s human resources department plans to follow up with faculty members and Careerminds to clear up any issues of which it was not previously made aware. 

With the end of the semester approaching, Edwards reflected on the difficulty of the situation into which she and many other colleagues have been thrust. 

“I've been here for 12 years. So one of the things that people keep asking is, ‘Well, where are you going to go? Are you going to go home?’ … That sounds like an easy question, but it's not,” Edwards said. “It's like somebody asking you to find a home somewhere else when this is your home.”


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