By Ben Peters
Athens NEWS Associate Editor
Nearly 140 Ohio University faculty signed a statement that calls for the university administration to place academics, professors and students at the forefront of consideration when restructuring its budget, which is expected to continue operating at a significant deficit, rather than prioritizing large administrative salaries.
The statement, written in collaboration with several faculty members across university departments, arrived weeks after Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Deborah Shaffer outlined bleak financial projections to the OU Board of Trustees that show the university expects to incur nearly $300 million in losses in the coming years, even after laying off hundreds of employees and also mandating furloughs.
“Students and alums, many faculty and staff, have lifelong connections to Ohio University. We are the constituencies most committed to the long-term health and well-being of the university. That is why we prioritize the academic mission and are invested in academic quality,” the statement said.
“Any approach to ‘right-sizing’ must be accomplished while furthering those commitments. Proposals to close the ‘structural debt’ by further reducing the size of the faculty and resources for teaching and research will inevitably threaten the quality of the academic experience. This would be more ‘business as usual.’ And we cannot afford that.”
The statement alleged that the university’s perilous financial state was self-inflicted by the administration’s insistence on sustaining, and in some cases increasing, what faculty call “exorbitant compensation” for university executives all while devoting fewer financial resources within the budget to faculty and staff salaries and academic expenditures.
It criticized the administration’s practice of justifying executive compensation by referencing the salaries of those at peer universities, saying that many of OU’s peers are also financially crippled and that using them as benchmarks shows a commitment to “the failed aspects” of the model.
“Real leadership requires interrogating rather than merely mimicking assumptions about ‘best practices’ among our peers who are also struggling,” the statement said.
Wright State University and The University of Akron, two of OU’s peers, have both sustained their own financial crises that have led to mass faculty layoffs at each institution — much of it accelerated by the added strains of the coronavirus pandemic. In recent months, OU laid off more than 400 employees in an effort to cut back on expenses as the pandemic exacerbated the university’s already aching budgetary issues. OU, the single largest employer in the region, also made a concerted effort to offer incentives for certain employees to retire early. At least 88 employees, many of whom were faculty members, accepted early retirement deals. More than 200 instructional faculty and administrators, 140 skilled-trade workers in the ASFCME Local 1699 union, and 81 classified clerical and technical employees have all lost their jobs since May, prompting several Uptown protests where many expressed a great sense of anger at administrative salaries and at them taking what the demonstrators called exorbitant bonuses.
Faculty Senate voted in May to approve a vote of no confidence in both Shaffer and Nellis, condemning their handing of the university’s financial crisis. The university and the Board of Trustees released statements in support of the two following the vote.