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OU faculty concerned with second voluntary separation or retirement program

Ohio University’s second voluntary separation or retirement program, or VSRP, ran from January 14 to March 7 and was met with concerns from OU faculty.

The program, which offered incentives for faculty to end their employment at OU through retirement or separation, was also offered in February 2020 to 608 OU faculty and administrative staff members who ranked as tenured professors or tenured associate professors, according to a previous Post report.

In October 2021, the OU Board of Trustees approved the second iteration of the program, which was also offered to tenured professors. According to university records, there were 95 professors who opted into the program the first time it was offered. 

In the second round, more than 400 professors were eligible for the separation incentives. The number of current professors who are opting into the program is still unclear, according to university records from March 1. 

Joe McLaughlin, a professor of English and the vice president of OU-AAUP, believes the current installment of the VSRP is weakening OU, as a recent statement from OU-AAUP asserted. 

“We're very concerned, given what has happened here over the last several years with a previous round of the VSRP,” McLaughlin said. “We have lots of other ideas about places in the university where we could realize savings that don't result in cutting down on faculty.”

Professors like Loren Lybarger, a professor of classics and religious studies, agreed with McLaughlin in the idea that the voluntary separation or retirement program is weakening academic programs at OU. 

One of the reasons professors are considering and opting into the program is better job offerings and the feeling of being demoralized by the way OU is handling its current situation, Lybarger said. 

As part of benefits of the program, all participants will receive a payment equal to 100% of their base pay rate and educational benefits. Those enrolled in the university’s medical insurance plan will receive an additional taxable payment of $20,000 to help with the cost of medical expenses, Carly Leatherwood, OU spokesperson, said. 

John Cotton, a professor in mechanical engineering, agreed that losing important faculty is hurting the university but acknowledged the appeal of the VSRP. 

“They're a pretty good deal. They're a year's salary, and at least in engineering, many of these people have options either in the private sector or they can go to another university,” Cotton said. “You have very productive faculty members who are basically being paid to go someplace else.”

Lybarger said he might have joined his colleagues in taking the incentives of the VSRP if his circumstances were different.

“If I were in their position, at that point in my career, maybe I, too, would have done it. They're just done with OU, and they're sick of it, and it makes sense,” Lybarger said. “I know that they feel deeply ambivalent about it because they also really love their students and love their colleagues and have been very devoted to their vocation and their profession.”

With the VSRP in place and several professors having already taken the package, Cotton said he doesn't believe there is fear among tenured professors that OU will be implementing layoffs in the near future. However, he said he could not speak to the concerns of instructional faculty.

There are concerns about the education of students while certain departments lose some of their most experienced faculty, Lybarger said.

“There are graduate students who have lost their advisers and are sort of left now swinging in the wind without any support or having to find a new adviser,” Lybarger said. “If you are an undergraduate student, you might find that you no longer have classes that you need to finish a major.”

Some departments are even losing a large fraction of their instructional faculty because of the VSRP with little indication from the university of hiring new faculty to replace the ones who opt into the VSRP, McLaughlin said. 


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