Reader's Forum

Although I am happily long-retired from Ohio University, its present financial and academic condition prompt me to make the following observations.

Firings: In order to meet the financial emergency occasioned by several years of poor planning and declining enrollments, and accentuated by the coronavirus (COVID-19), Ohio University has been engaged in severe cost-cutting efforts.

These efforts unfortunately have resulted in the firing (aka termination/non-renewal) of numerous university employees and the reduction (aka downsizing/right-sizing/sunsetting) of some academic programs. Many of the affected programs have been reported in the local press, but I have not yet seen mention of my former home, the Modern Languages Department, where in the past two years a total of 10 faculty were not renewed. Added to four non-replaced retirements, this means that 40% (14 of 35) of the MLD faculty positions have been eliminated. Based on press reports and on conversations with former colleagues, the likely consequences are: 1) after 2021 Russian will not be taught at OU for the first time since 1947; German (reduced from 5 to 2 faculty), will not offer a major nor the study program in Austria (established in 1968); Spanish will not offer the popular Spring Semester program in Toledo, Spain; the Italian certificate program and the summer study program in Florence are in jeopardy; and French participation in the Honors Tutorial program may be impossible. These losses, combined with the others that have been publicized in the press, belie the Administration’s contention that students will continue to receive the same quality educational opportunities for their money.

Nor can students expect to receive the same service from the union, classified and administrative employees, whose numbers have been severely cut. I am unsure of the number, since the Administration has its own peculiar way with figures, which leads me to the next category:

“Shell-game (Noun): A game of skill which requires the bettor to guess under which of three small cups (or shells) a pea-sized object has been placed after the party operating the game rapidly rearranges them, providing opportunity for sleight-of-hand trickery.”

We are told, of course, that the sacrifices are being shared by the Administration and Athletics. According to press reports, numerous administrative positions have been eliminated, 149 at last count. But wait! It is only the current positions that have been eliminated; many of these same people (up to 55) will be rehired to newly created positions. Despite this administrative sleight of hand, the attentive reader will surely have no problem finding the lost and newly rearranged positions under the appropriate shell.

As to cuts in Athletics, especially the high-cost programs: well, I guess I missed that announcement. Apparently “the games must go on,” no matter the risk to participants and spectators.

Administrative(redivivus): in the College of Arts and Sciences, 44 support positions were eliminated as “part of the administrative support reorganization . . . to create a college centralized service model” that will provide 23 “new” jobs. While this move is obviously part of the numbers game being played by the Administration, it also has the potential to dilute the autonomy of individual departments (and hence faculty) by concentrating support staff in the dean’s office.

This would not be the first such attempt. In a memo dated March 27, 1943 from the Board of Trustees to Acting President W.S. Gamertsfelder, the Vice-Chair (Gordon K. Bush) recommended dissolving the Executive Committee of the Faculty and the Faculty Advisory Council; eliminating the position of departmental chair; reducing the role of faculty on university committees; and proposed that the responsibility for the functioning of the colleges and departments “should be entirely the responsibility of [the Acting President and] the deans”. Luckily, Acting President Gamertsfelder had a higher opinion of the role of faculty and departments in the governance of the university and opposed the move in a very thoughtful memo (March 30, 1943).

Such a blatant attempt to reduce the importance of shared university governance would, of course, never happen today, and so I am sure the worst is over.

Barry G. Thomas is a Professor Emeritus of German at Ohio University, 1965-2005.

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