Budget forum

A Porter Hall lecture room was packed with concerned faculty and staff members who are bracing for potential cuts at Ohio University.

Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, Nov. 19 newspaper on Page A1.

A recent night found an Ohio University lecture hall close to standing room only, but not with students. Instead, a room of faculty and staff members expressed concerns with the current administration and ongoing budget woes.

With job cuts made this semester and others rumored to be coming, those who gathered at the Nov. 14 forum discussed the possibility of unionizing and organizing a walk-out to draw attention to their needs.

The Thursday night forum was hosted by the OU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, with presentations given by a pair of associate professors, Jim Mosher and David Ridpath. The goal was to start a conversation on how professors could work to save their jobs, or at least get a seat at the table to help make these kinds of decisions.

Many faculty members present were concerned that their jobs were on the chopping block. One individual from the college of Arts and Sciences noted that between 30-50 jobs are believed to be on the line in his college, which could lead to “an entire program ... being gutted for this as a result.” The view was expressed that OU’s budget is balanced at the expense of the faculty through not giving out year-end salary raises; not renewing contracts and not awarding tenure to faculty; and not replacing positions that become open as professors retire or leave for other opportunities.

The OU chapter of AAUP has spoken out on the terminations of non-tenured faculty as recently as October, saying in a statement:

“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 executive AAUP committee wrote. “Any legitimate response must prioritize and protect the academic mission and the curricular and pedagogical experience of our students. Instructional faculty members are critical to this mission.”

Talks of walkouts and forming a union to bring some power back into the professors hands were also discussed, but no concrete plans were made during the forum. Many felt this could be a way to make the administration hear their concerns.

Mosher gave a presentation on the university’s budget, also detailing recent enrollment figures. First-year enrollment at the Athens campus has trended downward for the past four years.

Enrollment is only part of the problem, as Mosher told it. Over the decades, salaries for teaching faculty have remained mostly flat, when adjusted for inflation. However, when in-state student tuition is also adjusted for inflation and compared, it has risen precipitously — from almost $3,000 per year in the 1960s to almost $12,000 for the 2016-17 school year.

This demonstrates a lack of spending in crucial parts of the university, Mosher concluded. He noted that spending on administration has risen, as has the number of administrators per student.

That rise began in the 1990s. But since 2011, there has been a 45 percent increase in the number of administrators per student, according to data presented by Mosher. That’s an additional 350 or so administrative employees in the past 7-8 years. Only 80 or so new faculty have been hired in the same timeline.

All of OU’s non-academic units show similar growth, including to the technical staff, but no increase to Alden Library’s budget.

Mosher noted there are three budgets a university should be concerned with: the next social benefit budget (real-world benefits produced by the university), personnel (how many of each kind of employee the university employs, and their associated salaries), and the actual money (overall revenue compared with expenditures).

He noted that things such as attractive landscaping, admissions, Ping Recreation Center, a variety of professors and majors and the quality of food in the dining halls are all items mentioned by incoming freshmen on why they chose OU. Mosher admitted these may not be the best decision making tactics, but it’s realistic and reflects the incoming students’ priorities.

Things like parking, he said, would then fall toward the bottom of the university’s budget priorities. However, parking services receive a dedicated stream of funding and do not have to compete with other departments to fund its projects.

Mosher argued that from a net social benefits perspective, professors who are teaching students (leading to students becoming members of society who earn higher wages and live longer) and those working on research can bring funds into the university and contribute to the economy if utilized. Mosher said the university should invest more into these professors and educational aspects of campus.

He advocated for limited building maintenance, and minimizing spending on non-academic units of the university.

Ridpath, an associate professor of sports administration, expanded on the athletics budget. He noted that although the university does not have a athletics fee, there is funding from tuition headed straight to the athletics department — close to $1,300 from each student per semester. Almost 70 percent of the athletics department is funded through this subsidy.

“Athletics was never really on the table,” Ridpath said in terms of budget cuts. “If it’s as bad as Jim (Mosher) said, then everybody needs to share this problem.”

Other points raised included a perceived lowering of overall quality at the university due to the strain put on faculty to not only teach brick-and-mortar classes, but also online courses. Some in attendance recommended the faculty grow support in the student body, noting that the students’ tuition is likely the largest bargaining power associated with the university.

Loren Lybarger, president of the OU AAUP, said he has been in contact with the president of AAUP’s national group who has been giving advice on how to unionize and also how to organize potential walkouts.

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