Cutler Hall outside

Cutler Hall, home of the office of the president of Ohio University. File photo.

Ohio University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors is raising the alarm about the termination of non-tenure-track teaching staff members (sometimes referred to as “Group 2” faculty) in a time of ongoing budget cuts.

A letter of concern from the OU AAUP about this issue – which appears on page 7 of today’s issue – comes as the university is considering a significant revision of its general education curriculum, which the group predicts will mean more demand for such teaching staff.

It also comes as the university administration set a target of roughly $19.3 million in budget reductions last spring that it’s asking OU’s various Athens campus academic colleges to make over the next four years. The largest portion of that – about $8 million – is coming from the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Many of these faculty members are among the institution’s most successful and award-winning teachers,” the letter from AAUP reads. “Instructional faculty are indispensable to the ability of the university to deliver its existing curriculum, particularly the general education courses. Moreover, with the general education revision on the horizon, all indicators are that there will be a significant increase in the demand for general education credit. Yet reductions in instructional staff are scheduled to coincide with this increase in demand.”

OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood noted that institutions of higher learning “across the nation” are working to adapt to a “shifting market,” and said that OU is no different.

“We are continuing conversations related to the university’s fiscal year 2021-2026 budget planning, and decisions are still being made within the academic units to help ensure sustainable financial future,” Leatherwood said. “Additionally, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Deb Shaffer has engaged with faculty and staff several times in town forum sessions related to the budget. Just last week, faculty were invited to attend the session, ‘Money Matters, an informal discussion.’ It is premature to comment further.

Loren Lybarger, an OU associate professor of classics and world religion, and president of the OU AAUP chapter, said Tuesday that while he doesn’t have “hard numbers” yet, he believes several dozen “group II” faculty could be terminated as a result of budget cuts (some already have been let go, he said). That would mean a drastic reduction of courses typically taught by those faculty members – which often end up being intro-level classes with large numbers of students – and an increase in the teaching load for tenure-track faculty and others, he predicted. Lybarger said the budget cuts the university is asking academic colleges to make seem to be the result of more than just the university’s recent enrollment downturn.

He added that the AAUP is working on a “white paper” analyzing the university’s staffing and budget over the years, which he said should shed “critical light” on the matter.

“We don’t actually necessarily need to fire people,” Lybarger said, noting that much of that reduction in budget could be handled through “attrition” and retirements. “It seems to be other things that might be driving this, having to do with the university’s spending choices over the last 20 years or so, as well as spending on athletics.”

The AAUP letter calls on the university to reconsider its approach to budget reductions.

“It appears that a crisis-driven decision-making process is requiring the thinning of faculty ranks and the loss of teaching power at exactly the time and often in exactly the curricular places where we will need it most,” the letter reads. “A core commitment to investing in the academic mission will strengthen our ability to deliver on the curricular revision. But this will require the administration to reconsider its responses to the university’s budgetary situation.”

OU’s administrative units are continuing to work through $8.4 million in budget reductions that were set several years ago.

Most of OU’s administrative offices took a $4.8 million cut in 2018, along with another $1.5 million cut expected this year, and another $2.15 million cut in Fiscal Year 2020, The NEWS previously reported. 

OU’s auxiliary departments – athletics, culinary and housing – are also set to make some reductions: About $2.5 million in FY18; $1.5 million in FY19; and almost $700,000 in FY2020. Athletics is contributing about $600,000 in reductions across those three years.

According to OU’s statistics website, the university had 346 full-time “group II” faculty in the 2018-2019 year across its campuses, compared to 829 full-time “group I” (tenure-track) faculty.

A forum for “group II” faculty was set to be held Wednesday night after The NEWS’ print deadline. The NEWS will follow up on the results of that meeting and the white paper when possible.

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