In May, the eyes of Athens County turned towards Ohio University when the institution laid off 140 employees.
The university’s financial problems had been widely discussed and are due in part to a declining enrollment that as only been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, the university announced that it would delay layoffs due to the pandemic. However, those halting measures were lifted by top university administration as the state prepared to reopen the economy in May following a lengthy stay-at-home order from Gov. Mike DeWine. At the time, the university community received a letter from OU President M. Duane Nellis about the approaching cost-saving measures.
Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis and Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Sayrs would take a 15 percent pay cuts and no bonus’ this year, an equivalent to a 39-day furlough, as well as a number of university-wide budget-saving measures.
“These are important first steps that will provide limited short-term savings,” Nellis wrote. “But, speaking with candor and in fairness to our University community, they will fall far short of filling the anticipated gap. Unavoidably, this global crisis will force permanent changes in communities worldwide, including here at Ohio University. It will touch every area of the University, and it will have a difficult and direct impact on us all.”
Nellis earns over $489,000 annually, and Sayrs’ position pays $378,750 annually. In July 2019, Nellis was awarded a $72,000 bonus, alongside a $7,000 raise, despite concerns of the lower enrollment rates and lower high school graduation numbers from across the state.
Nellis’ pay cut will amount to about $73,400 — leaving him with a salary of about $415,953.
The 140 employees who were laid off on May 31 were all members of the AFSCME Local 1699 union. Employees who lost their jobs were in the custodial, culinary and maintenance departments.
Members of the union and the Ohio University chapter of the American Association of University Professors led a protest at Peden Stadium following the announcement of the layoffs.
The group has three specific demands: halt all layoffs for the duration of the pandemic; reinstate employees laid off during the pandemic; and cap all OU salaries at what Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine makes ($153,650) during the pandemic.
“We were disheartened to see the amount of layoffs in this community. This affects a lot of people, our communities and the health insurance and benefits that these employees...we just think there are other avenues that we can go,” John Johnson, Athens Regional Director for AFSCME Council 8 said at the time. “There’s not a lot of jobs here. We just want to get an opportunity at the table to really understand the budget situation further than what we did back in March.”
The Ohio University Faculty Senate passed a vote of “no confidence” in the leadership of President Nellis and Chief Financial Officer Deb Shaffer, a move that OU-AAUP endorsed. A statement from OU noted that Nellis and Provost Elizabeth Sayrs have “shared direct and transparent information” with the faculty senate members, and that they were “very clear about what we know, what we don’t know and how we will move forward in securing the financial future of Ohio University despite the real and deep impact that COVID-19 is having on our University.”
Later in May, more than 200 faculty members and administrators were informed that their contracts would not be renewed. At that time, the administrators were notified that they may be eligible for rehiring into the same position at a reduced pay or placement into another position.