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Letter to the Editor: Getting rid of professors weakens OU

The current OU administration and its Board of Trustees are taking blunt and drastic actions that will determine the future of the University and wider community. Their latest move–another round of the Voluntary Separation and Retirement Program (VSRP) -- aims to slash faculty ranks by offering tenured professors one additional year of pay if they agree to either:  

a) retire early or 

b) voluntarily separate from the university well before retirement age 

The impact of this program remains uncertain; but if we examine the results of the earlier buyout effort, the university likely will confront a significant loss of highly experienced researchers and teachers. Their departure will severely weaken existing academic programs and further damage morale among the remaining faculty, who must bear the burden of sharply increased teaching loads. 

This buyout will cost the University a lot of money and only saves money, if at all, over a longer time frame, assuming that the hiring freeze (which has not applied to upper administration) continues. It will not come anywhere close to closing the gap on the reported current budget deficit, one estimate being around $40 million dollars annually for the next four years. In fact, it is more likely to cost future revenue. This is easy to understand.  

Until recent years, Ohio University had a strong reputation as a school known for its excellent educational opportunities for students from all across the state, nation and around the world. It also had a growing reputation for strong graduate programs, research, and scholarship. Every year, students chose to come to OU because they knew they would receive a quality education. 

The current OU administration and the Trustees however, have apparently made the decision that faculty, especially highly experienced and well-established faculty, are not essential to maintaining quality academic programs that reinforce a university’s reputation and drive its enrollment. They apparently feel that getting rid of these faculty for short-term savings on salary and benefits expenditures will solve OU’s fiscal problems. 

But the administration seems not to understand or appreciate that slashing the faculty risks deep and lasting harm. Once the number of faculty in a department or program drops below a critical threshold, maintaining and delivering the coursework becomes difficult if not impossible. The first round of buyouts and nonrenewals of faculty contracts have led some departments already to cancel classes that their students require. With fewer faculty to share the workload, scholarship and research become much more difficult as well. Once strong programs thus become unviable.

 The resultant weakening of PhD and Masters level programs represents an especially serious problem, since they help to support the undergraduate mission in important ways. As just one example, graduate students serve as necessary teaching assistants in large lecture classes. They also also help carry out the research and scholarship mission, but who teaches the graduate students? This critical question seems not to concern the upper administration.

 In a Q&A this past fall with the College of Arts & Sciences, Provost Sayrs stated that the OU had no plan to hire new faculty, even as we watched the hiring of numerous administrators, undoubtedly at higher salaries than those of their over-compensated predecessors. This disregard for the faculty risks sending Ohio University into a downward spiral as its academic reputation suffers, high student-faculty ratios discourage students from applying, and, assuming the hiring freeze ever ends, potential new faculty from top graduate programs choose to go to better-supported departments and colleges.  

OU-AAUP opposes this VSRP and calls upon the administration to work with faculty, in a spirit of shared governance, to develop a plan to replace retiring faculty immediately. Rather than encourage even more faculty to leave Ohio University and Athens, the university should be finding new ways to retain its excellent faculty, bring in ambitious new faculty and build up its academic programs, not weaken them further. 

OU-AAUP believes that the central role of the University is to educate students and enable opportunities for knowledge creation and scholarship. The University should take on a "you build it and they will come" attitude and look to the example of the University of Cincinnati, which has seen increased numbers of students in the past five years, proving that arguments about "demographic decline" do not hold water. Students, and especially their parents, look at the rankings of a university when considering where to go to college. Those rankings depend strongly on the quality and number of an institution's faculty. Ohio University has the potential to be one of Ohio's best universities, but this requires investment in faculty, investment in academics, and investment in the future.  

Signed by: OU-AAUP Executive Committee

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