To the Editor:
Today's issue of The Athens NEWS contains the story "OU Lays Off 140 Union Employees; More Cuts to Come," quoting OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood. The story reports the firing of 140 AFSCME employees (maintenance workers, groundskeepers, police communications staff, etc.). It does not, however, mention the ongoing termination of faculty, mostly non-tenure track "instructional faculty," many who have been teaching at OU for many years, and some of whom were promoted, with high praise, earlier this year.
Such terminations strike directly to the heart of the university's academic mission, eliminating the people who do the work the university exists to do.
The story quotes Leatherwood as explaining the decision to terminate the AFSCME employees as follows: "The majority of the institution’s operational costs are in its employees." She does not, however, identify the different categories of university employees or what portion of the university's operational costs goes to AFSCME employees. Some attention to how the university's financial resources are directed provides insight into the current difficulties.
Most readers probably believe that faculty accounts for a large percentage of university salaries, and for the bulk of state support to the university. Both would be appropriate given the university's stated purpose. But that belief is wrong.
In fall 2019 the OU office of Institutional Research reported 1,088 faculty members on the Athens campus, with 147 more on the five regional campuses. That number includes both fulltime faculty (meaning tenured and tenure-track) and part-time (i.e., instructional faculty). At the same time the data show 1,748 administrators on the Athens campus, and 69 more on the five regional campuses.
We can compare those numbers to an earlier period. In 2001, the Athens campus had 1,256 faculty members, with 1,236 administrators (note: at that time faculty outnumbered administrators). Thus in the 18 years between 2001 and 2019, the Athens campus alone lost 168 faculty members while adding 512 administrators.
Salaries are a different way of looking at the steady decline in the resources devoted to OU's academic program. In the nine years between 2008/9 and 2017/18, average faculty salaries at Ohio University increased 1.7 percent in real inflation-adjusted terms, while tuition increased 13.9 percent in real inflation-adjusted terms. Where did the extra tuition dollars go? Well, between 2009/10 and 2018/19, spending on administrative salaries increased 23.4 percent in inflation-adjusted terms –close to twice the rate of inflation of the increase in tuition, 23.4 percent versus 13.9 percent, and nearly 14 times the increase in faculty salaries. A significant amount of resources (including state support to higher education) had shifted away from teaching Ohio's students to administrative expenses.
And then there's the amount of money that goes into athletic salaries: at OU, the men’s basketball and football coaches each earn over a half a million dollars per year, and each earns more than the university president. Meanwhile Governor DeWine’s yearly salary is $154,248.
So far, no university announcements have indicated any intended termination of administrators or coaches, or salary reductions for two significantly expensive employee categories.
Cutting 140 union members will not cover the cost of one coach. Continuing to cut the faculty members who earn the least is not an effective way to make up for the financial mismanagement that has stretched on for years. It's like draining the swimming pool to allow hiring more swimming instructors.
It may well be true that university employees count for the majority of OU's operational costs, but that fact does not explain the logic behind the termination of groundskeepers, IT employees and the like (all AFSCME members); nor does it explain the ongoing steady reduction in the numbers of university faculty, the core of the university and the embodiment of its purpose. Simply reducing the salaries (and staffs) of upper-level administrators and athletic employees would allow the university to fulfill its original mission of teaching, of educating: to guide students toward understanding and wisdom.
Marsha L. Dutton
Professor Emeritus of English