A number of beloved and well-respected instructors at Ohio University received non-renewal notices on their contracts last week, in the wake of OU’s announced layoffs for 53 instructional faculty members.
While those employees are allowed to finish out the coming academic year due to a clause in OU’s faculty handbook, a palpable sense of loss can be felt around campus and in Athens for, and among, those faculty members.
Rebecca Collins, an instructional faculty member at OU since 2009, was one of the instructors who received a non-renewal notice on Friday. Collins, an associate professor of instruction in sociology, described herself as a “Bobcat through-and-through,” completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at OU.
“In my 11 years as an instructional faculty member, I have served on numerous departmental committees, headed the quarter to semester transition planning for our majors, taught anywhere between 8-11 courses a year with total class sizes of 600 or more, and advised 30-plus students a year,” she said in an email Tuesday. “I have earned two promotions, my first as an associate lecturer in 2016 and my final promotion step as a senior lecturer/professor of instruction just last month.
“Like so many of my fellow instructional faculty I have carried the worry and fear of a nonrenewal for the last nine months,” she said. “My worst nightmare became my reality last Friday when I was informed that my contract would not be renewed and that my terminal year would be the 2020-21 academic year. To say that I am heartbroken is an understatement.”
Collins said it was an “honor” to teach, advise and mentor thousands of students. There’s been a sizable public response to Collins’ non-renewal in particular, with a petition started online by her former students and others calling on her to be reinstated reaching 615 signatures by Wednesday morning.
“I have had the privilege to have been there in some of their (students) happiest moments and in their darkest days,” Collins said. “I carry their stories and their experiences with me just as I carry my own children’s. The display of support, encouragement and advocacy that current and former students have shown me in the last four days has been incredible, and there are no words to express my gratitude to them for believing in me and what I do, or perhaps that should be ‘did,’ for Ohio University.”
Christina Jones, an associate professor of instruction in OU’s Ohio Program of Intensive English (OPIE), has been an instructor with that program since 2006, and coordinator of OPIE’s Reading Lab since 2010. She similarly was issued a non-renewal notice last Friday.
Like Collins, Jones earned her bachelor and master’s degrees at OU. Her experience with the university started when she was a student with OU’s pre-college Upward Bound program in 1995.
Jones said that she has learned that OU’s OPIE and English Language Improvement Program (ELIP) have been devastated by the recently announced layoffs.
“Out of respect for individuals, I won’t disclose exact numbers concerning OPIE and ELIP, but I will say that a mind-blowingly overwhelming majority has been affected,” she said. “It really forces me to question the current administration’s commitment to enhancing diversity since programs like ours are the gateway for many international students to the OU community.”
Jones said the magnitude of loss of faculty and other staff was “senseless.”
“The president’s revoked March promise to put layoffs on hold during the pandemic, and the quiet, hasty, chaotic way upper admin executed the elimination of instructional faculty, programs, and staff was altogether painful and humiliating,” she said.
Heather Edwards, an associate professor of instruction in English, is another non-renewed faculty member. She has taught at OU since 2010.
“When people ask if I am OK,” she wrote in an email earlier this week, “I want to scream and cry and tell them that I have dedicated the last 10 years of my life to OU, sometimes prioritizing my students and providing them with a good education over everything else in my life, only to be told that this administration values its teachers so little that they will ignore any plans for ways to approach this budget crisis do not involve cutting Instructional Faculty.
“We are an easy target for trying to save money,” she continued, “but letting us go, at best, is a short-sighted solution that cripples the university’s ability to deliver on its teaching mission.
“And honestly, part of my love of academia died on Friday when I was told,” she added. “I don’t know if I can work for a system or support a system that so devalues the ones that actually make it work while protecting those who make the most money and have the most power.”
Edwards said that as an instructional faculty member, living under the threat of being fired for the last year-plus due to ongoing discussions about OU’s budget struggles has been hard, especially as other instructors in her department were laid off last year as well.
She condemned the OU administration as “cruel and inhumane” in the way they have approached the university’s budget problems.
“While top administrators might take a voluntary pay cut, they will still be making hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the remaining instructional faculty and most faculty make, those who will be out of jobs next May are being sent out into a job market with little hope that other institutions are hiring right now,” she said. “There are now hundreds of OU employees (and there will probably be more) who will not make it out of this budget crisis.”
Despite their own grief over the loss of their colleagues, some instructional faculty members at OU did receive a small measure of respite on Friday when they learned that they would be allowed to keep their jobs. Despite earlier warning signs that they would not be renewed, Patty Stokes and Kim White in OU’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies department have not received termination notices.
“While I’m of course deeply relieved and grateful that my job is safe for another year and we in WGSS will be able to serve our students, I’m deeply distressed about the many positions eliminated,” Stokes said. “My heart is aching at losing so many valuable colleagues – dedicated custodians, brilliant teachers, and office administrators with decades of institutional knowledge.”
Stokes said that layoffs should have been a “last resort,” though she said it’s not too late to reverse them.
An OU student group called #SaveOUrProfs has been calling attention to specific cases of instructors who have received non-renewal notices, with updates regularly on Twitter. Olivia Gemarro, a soon-to-be fourth-year student in English, creative writing and sociology-criminology, is a member of that group.
“The OU administration’s conduct during this budget crisis is dishonorable, to say the least,” she said Tuesday. “To sacrifice valuable instructors instead of cutting overpaid administrative officials’ salaries undermines OU’s purpose as an institution of higher education. We need our professors to succeed, and it’s quite horrifying to watch the higher-ups dispose of them so readily, as though they aren’t the very people that make our school great. “