2nd UPDATE: 9:20 p.m. EDT, May 3: Bryan Alexander has a comprehensive list of announced furloughs or job cuts. One of his conclusions bears special attention:
A few reflections on this list: faculty members have largely been spared. Cuts have fallen on staff instead. There are few signs of structural or programmatic change. Many of these are temporary measures.
UPDATE: 4:45 p.m. EDT, May 3:
I’ve received a few notices from readers about job cuts already announced at other institutions. The list from my original post below can now include:
-240 job cuts at Western Michigan University
-Planned cuts at the University of Missouri
-136 cuts at Bristol Community College
I’ll build this list as more information is sent my way. It’s a sad, stressful time for all of us in higher education.
ORIGINAL POST: (Full disclosure: I earned my PhD from Ohio University.)
The news from Athens, Ohio, is not good. Ohio University will cut 140 positions because of the economic fallout from coronavirus.
Examples of those people, whose positions will be eliminated May 31, are maintenance and grounds positions, custodial positions and some culinary positions, Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said.
There will also be the equivalent of over 32 full-time positions and 17 positions that will remain unfilled through the early retirement incentive plan, meaning there will be over 189 eliminated positions.
OU estimates that those reductions will save the university $11,317,926.
If Ohio University was the only institution severing ties with its employees, then it would deserve ridicule, and its leaders might be fired for negligence. Sadly, what’s happening in Athens will be repeated at many U.S. colleges and universities in the coming months.
We’re already aware of job cuts at Merrimack College, the University of Oregon and Johns Hopkins University. (If you know other colleges making similar announcements, please post that information in the comment section at the bottom of this blog post.)
We’ve all heard that old line that avoiding regular maintenance on your car today will lead to major problems tomorrow. When it comes to higher education, the statement goes like this: If you don’t maintain your state’s public colleges and universities today, then you’ll have major problems tomorrow.
Tomorrow has arrived.
State governments — and Democrats and Republicans are guilty — have chopped away at funding public colleges and universities for well over 10 years. Ohio’s roughly 18% cut in that time represents a reckless budgetary decision repeated often, but leaders in roughly two-dozen other states have slashed higher education funding even more.
Arizona is the worst of the worst, so it should come as no surprise that the University of Arizona slashed more than 300 jobs in 2015 and now furloughs and pay cuts are staring almost every U of A employee in the face.
Dating to the economic collapse of 2008, higher education has morphed from a public good to a major private expense. As state governments have refused to maintain their financial commitment to their public institutions, massive tuition hikes have followed as presidents and chancellors struggle to meet their annual budgets. Far too many students graduate today crippled by debt from student loans needed to complete their education, and an untold number of young adults have simply stayed away from college; we won’t know the lasting effects of this absence of leadership in our state capitols for at least a generation. By then, it will be too late to undo the damage.
High tuition and resulting student loans also are a fact of life at private schools; however, those higher costs were evident when those schools opened. What is stunning for many people to learn is that the cost of attending a private university isn’t all that different than it would be at a public institution.
America’s colleges and universities — public and private — suffered an economic shock when they were forced to reimburse students for housing and other fees this spring once those students were sent home because of coronavirus fears. The economic angst will extend into the fall if those campuses can’t reopen and then maintain normal operations. As the Los Angeles Times notes,
…scientists are just as eager as the rest of us to get lockdown measures lifted as soon as possible, and most of them agree that keeping us stuck in our homes until a vaccine is found is not a viable strategy.
“This is something we’ve been discussing internally at the World Health Organization,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program. “On one hand we have the science, on the other hand we have the practical reality of life.”
Ryan said that until there is a vaccine, we may never reach a point when there is absolute scientific certainty that it is 100% safe for 20 people to be together in the same room — let alone 200 or 20,000.
Creative solutions might be found to allow students to return in the fall, but one unknown variable is whether parents will send their sons and daughters to campus absent a proven vaccine. More ominously, as the unemployment rate skyrockets because job losses related to coronavirus, more and more students won’t have the economic means to begin or continue their education in the coming months.
Those job cuts at Ohio, Merrimack, Oregon and Johns Hopkins will extend to hundreds of campuses if the fall quarter/semester is anything but normal.
While we’re assigning blame for the economic tragedy that exists throughout America’s higher education system, let’s not forget the media failed to bang the drum about the essential nature of a college degree. (Come to think of it, let’s also not ignore the number of job cuts over the past 15 or so years throughout the journalism industry; fewer men and women on the front lines of daily journalism equates to lesser coverage of higher education.)
Opting instead for an objective discussion about the issue, the media fed the American public a steady and unchecked diet of stories promoting one theme: College comes with a price, and America’s young adults simply must pay it if they want their degree. (Christopher Newfield’s book The Great Mistake is mandatory reading for anyone concerned about what’s unfolding in public higher education.) This short-sighted idea of paying more for a degree gutted a decades’ long effort to make higher education a vital vehicle to promote economic wellbeing in all 50 states.
In addition, the dangerous message that higher education was the liberals’ playground, in which indoctrination instead of education was everywhere, took root in a media environment in which propaganda became equated with information. The right used powerful echo chambers to scream that those liberals had to be identified and rooted out so that (never clearly identified) American values wouldn’t suffer.
In effect, Americans have been told for more than a decade that making college more expensive would be GOOD for the country (it certainly was good for banks) and that accusing liberal professors of Communist-like brain washing was ESSENTIAL.
(And, yes, before those on the right reading this post jump all over me, I accept that any professor who uses his or her classroom to espouse his or her political ideology is wrong. Oh, and conservative professors do it, too. Let’s move on.)
So, here we are. As the 2019-2020 academic year winds down, America’s public universities operate with less and less state funding; America’s college students are riddled with debt; and a global pandemic has erased the predictable, albeit imperfect, rhythm of the college campus. If the pandemic continues, more and more people who work on those campuses will be let go and fewer and fewer students will be seen in the dorms, the dining halls and the classrooms.
Criticize what is taking place at Ohio University? Sure. But don’t make it out to be the only black mark on higher education.