US college and university professors brace for furloughs and layoffs

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Ohio University in Athens is the latest educational institute to discharge faculty after major revenue losses stemming from the Covid-19 crisis.

While there have been little requests to make cuts to the athletic budget, academic schools at Ohio University were expected to reduce its budget by $30 million through faculty layoffs. Their decision rattled the academic community when layoffs included tenure-track faculty. Usually, tenured professors enjoy some level of protection against termination, but Ohio University relieved tenure-track faculty working under probationary status. Other faculty layoffs included contract instructors who received non-renewal letters.

Another worry expressed by members in the academy is the department that university administration selected to disrupt—African American Studies and Women’s & Gender Studies. Layoffs ended in departments’ either decreasing by 50 percent or being completely de-staffed. 

I am heart-sick,” tweeted Kirstine Taylor, a faculty member in the Political Science Department at Ohio University.  She added, “And I worry that this is the canary in the coal mine for other universities.” 

Ohio University’s African American Studies program was the first of its kind in the state. Since its start in 1969, it has been central in scholarship and instruction regarding African Americans, Africans and those who make up the African diaspora.  Joseanne Cudjoe, a Women’s & Gender Studies instructor at William Paterson University in New Jersey said in a Facebook post regarding this issue:

Three weeks ago my colleagues and I discussed the likelihood that [African American] studies, Black Studies, Asian studies, Latin and Caribbean studies and any Critical Race departments will be the first targets. Sadly it’s becoming a present reality. Universities have constantly underfunded these departments, provided little tenure lines and depended on UNDERPAID adjuncts to teach within them. You would think such low funded departments that cost like $1 out of their budgets to fund would be safe in “cost cutting initiatives,” but nope. 

For years, universities have vacillated with ethnic studies, which is a relatively new concentration implemented largely in the 1970s and 80s. It was through Black power, Chicano movements, Feminist waves, and other non-majority campaigns that pushed for ethnic and women’s studies concentrations at universities. However some top schools remain resistant to starting a department focusing on non-majority scholarship. 

In fall of 2019, students at Harvard University kept an ongoing rally to have an ethnic studies program, a call that is almost 50 years old. With Ohio University, Cudjoe sees the disruption as a strategic move to dismember parts of the academy focusing on race and gender. 

These boards finally have a reason to chip away at these departments under the pretense of pandemic budget issues,” wrote Cudjoe. “But I’m sure somewhere on these universities’ websites they have a nice blurb about how invested they are in ‘decolonizing the curriculum’.”

To reduce costs, Ohio University president, M. Duane Nellis and its executive vice president and provost, Elizabeth Sayrs, agreed to a 15 percent pay cut and no bonus. Currently, Nellis makes  $482,125, and was approved a 15 percent bonus in July 2019. However, two coaches for the men’s basketball and football teams both make over $520,000.

Ohio University is on a growing list of universities that have laid off faculty, non-faculty employees or issued pay reductions to curtail costs. Kent State and The University of Dayton announced that it will cut instructors. Already, The University of New Haven has lessened pay, while Drew University, Guilford College in North Carolina, and Marquette University in Milwaukee, have announced some form of furlough or layoffs. Harvard University, an institution with a $40 billion endowment, drew extra criticism when reports showed that it let go its subcontracted dining hall workers without pay and received $8.6 million in the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.

A Save Our Profs” petition has been launched in support of professors who have been laid off at Ohio University.

Update on this article on May 8

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