Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, Nov. 26 newspaper on Page A1.
Hundreds rallied Monday on the Ohio University College Green, voicing their disapproval of how the higher education institution has managed its money and a perceived direction of cutting back in education parks of the university to balance its budget.
The rally was hosted by an informal group known as OU Fun Facts, which was started last week in the form of flyers distributed around campus listing various aspects of the budget crisis.
Following several speeches, rally-goers marched to Cutler Hall, which houses the president’s office, but were blocked from entering. However, student leaders of OU Fun Facts were later invited to speak with the university president on Tuesday.
Several students who started the group spoke during the rally, including Alex Armstrong, a senior studying French at OU. Armstrong and the other speakers’ main message was for OU’s administration to start looking at non-educational parts of the university for budget cuts, and to invest further into OU’s education, through measures such as hiring more faculty and raising faculty salaries.
A few hours before the rally, OU President M. Duane Nellis released a letter to campus, saying that a “great deal of misinformation” was being circulated about the budget planning process. He rejected the idea that OU is experiencing a budget crisis, stating the university has “a strong financial position and significant monetary reserves,” which contradicts statements from past OU Board of Trustee meetings and current budget documents.
University data shows that OU’s undergraduate tuition and fee revenue has dropped significantly, budgeted at $286.8 million in 2020 after having been budgeted at $298.7 million in the 2019 fiscal year. In June, academic colleges were asked to cut $19.3 million from their collective budgets, amid reductions in state support.
However, OU did receive some more state support than expected in August — about $1.7 million more than budgeted.
“Recognizing that human resources are by far our greatest expense, it will be necessary to reduce the number of full-time employees at Ohio University,” Nellis wrote, adding that the goal is to do so through retirements and other natural reductions in workforce, instead of through cutting positions. “We also are exploring the sunsetting of programs that don’t meet the needs or demands of today’s students.”
His letter did not directly speak to the reduction of administrators across the university, but did note the university is seeking to “streamline some business functions.”
The students, faculty and speakers at Monday’s rally did not agree with Nellis’ account of the budget, and said he was calling them “liars.”
“We all know that these are facts,” said Armstrong.
The rally comes after the OU chapter of the American Association of University Professors released a white paper detailing the university’s historical budget tactics.
Numerous individuals called out various cuts that are anticipated across the university — cuts were named in the library, the dining halls, and more. One student noted that the Core 2 classes for Women and Gender Studies majors are no longer offered, preventing students from graduating with a degree they’ve already begun.
Another student noted that about 40 faculty members are expected to be cut from the College of Arts and Sciences. Yet another individual noted that in Scripps College of Communication, there are more administrators than faculty members.
Yet others noted there have been faculty contracts already non-renewed for next year, and that many departments are blocked from hiring adjuncts. Other allegations of the Fun Facts flyers being taken down and chalk erased added to the crowds frustration with administrators.
Sam Debatin, a leader with Fun Facts as well as OU student, said it was time for students to disrupt the university and demand “facts and straight talk” from OU administrators.
Several others noted that the “front door theory” that the athletics department draws in students is a bit misguided, and that the subsidizing of athletics from student tuition is not acceptable. Students pay about $1,300 annually to athletics, according to the OU AAUP white paper. Many said that they believe athletics is a waste of student tuition, and said the athletic budget should also be on the chopping block, as it historically has been protected from cuts.
“Football is not worth faculty,” said Armstrong. “We are here to learn.”
“Who pays OU?” Debatin asked the crowd, answered by cries of “we do.”
Sam Debatin’s father, Bernhard Debatin, a professor of journalism at OU, also spoke at the rally. He noted that since 2000, over 500 administrators have been hired to the university, while only 103 faculty members have been added.
Jacob Chaffin, an OU alum and staff at Rutgers University, relayed how Rutgers used to use the Responsibility Centered Management (RCM) budget model, until students and faculty organized and let their anti-RCM feelings be known. He said that faculty and student organizing will be the way to get through to OU’s upper administration.
“An injury to one is an injury to all,” he encouraged the rally-goers.
Nellis noted in his letter that the university no longer uses the RCM budget model, pointing to the past model as resulting in “assumed enrollment growth in some colleges’ programs that, unfortunately, never materialized.”
Following the speeches and calls-to-action, the group marched across the Green to Cutler Hall, where Nellis’ office is located. There the rally-goers chanted and shouted at the building, which was locked, asking for a chance to sit down with administrators and have an “open and honest conversation” on how the budget should be approached.
The rally-goers then left signs on Cutler Hall’s steps to show administrators they had been there. Further rallies are planned after Thanksgiving break, although no date has been set, according to Fun Fact leadership.