Board of Trustees protest

About 50 Ohio University faculty protesters lined the walls behind regular attendees of the O.U. Board of Trustees January meeting.

The Ohio University chapter of the American Association of University Professors has released a statement demanding the university’s administration move classes primarily online immediately, and to allow faculty members freedom to choose whether online or in-person would be best for the upcoming semesters.

If all goes according to the University’s plan, students will return to campus on-schedule for classes to start Aug. 24, 2020, with Nov. 20 to be their last day on-campus for the semester.

The professor association chapter argued in its letter that as Athens now leads the state in COVID-19 infections and as it’s unlikely that officials will be able to effectively suspend all student, off-campus social activities, it’s likely that the “dangers will increase by virtue of the sheer number of potential spreaders when combined with non-compliance.”

The statement pointed to local hospitals’ capacity, calling the region “highly vulnerable” and citing OU’s “failure” to adjust plans to the evolving facts known about the virus as a probable cause for increased cases as students return.

“Current planning flies in the face of the facts we now know, and its success depends on a kind of magical thinking about the nature of the virus and the possibilities of containing it with a fall opening of the university,” the statement read. “Therefore, it is our conclusion that bringing some 14,000 students back to campus for fall term is likely to result in a superspreader event of potentially disastrous proportions.”

OU administrators have repeatedly discussed the potential fiscal impact of both having in-person classes and having virtual instruction, but the OU-AAUP statement called the university’s response a “series of disorganized panic cuts rather than a creative, sustainable long-term plan to adapt to our changed and dire circumstances.”

Faculty and staff have sounded off online with their concerns for weeks, asking for an answer to how the institution will move forward with fall planning. Students have also clamored for answers, questioning how to plan for the next nine months. Others have questioned whether paying for online classes is worth the money.

The letter adds a stipulation that “those who require physical space to pursue their teaching, research, and creative work (such as studio, dance, and theater artists, or laboratory scientists) be allowed to return to campus should they so choose.” Further, the chapter called for OU to go beyond CDC recommendations and be aggressive in it’s COVID-19 testing measures.

Other demands the group put forward included:

  • Increased lobbying measures by President M. Duane Nellis and the Board of Trustees
  • No more furloughs or faculty layoffs
  • An end to current furloughs at the end of this academic year
  • Guiding further financial support to Alden Library
  • Pausing all athletics for the academic year “which in itself will likely save some $26 million,” the demands claim
  • Conducting a faculty-led assessment of all non-academic programs
  • Halting use of outside consultants as “the faculty themselves constitute a large body of experts”
  • Halting finance driven programs that inhibit faculty until the measures can be determined to actually be money-savers
  • Conducting a faculty-led audit of executive positions including looking at whether salary can be cut, using this measure to “right-size” the administration
  • Cutting salaries over $150,000
  • And conducting a faculty-led assessment of costs, the origins of the university’s debt and endowment management

The group accused OU’s administrative team of relying “on a wing and prayer that we can be rescued by the same tired enrollment strategies of the past by cutting jobs, salaries and benefits and by raising workloads,” further accusing these measures of threatening the employees’ lives.

“Faculty will not let this university die on the sword of a failed business model,” the group wrote. “We demand the university redirect its efforts by partnering with us in a robust shared vision to meet this crisis and to bring us into the future. While we respect our faculty colleagues who have been working so very hard on plans to reopen, we must reject the view that shared governance is achieved by executives directing the faculty senate to find ways to implement already decided upon strategies...To our peril, we as faculty have allowed the principles of shared governance to be eroded. It is important to remember that in financial and other crises, shared governance becomes mores important not less.”

The statement followed a professor-led townhall held Friday, July 17 over Zoom, as the Athens NEWS reported. Many professors who spoke during Friday’s meeting were firmly in the camp of advocating for the university to move classes entirely online in the fall but ensure that jobs are protected in the long run. They worry that an all online fall semester could lead to economic devastation that results in the loss of more university jobs, following the many that have already been eliminated. “It just strikes me as utter lunacy to have an opening for the fall semester whose basic mode is bringing the 16,000, or so, young people back to campus,” said Associate Professor of Classics in The College or Arts and Sciences William Owens. “This is driven by economics – or let me put it this way: this is driven by very narrow and short-sighted understanding of what the economic situation is.” Athens NEWS Assistant Editor Ben Peters contributed to this report.

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