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At OSU, 18 FT English Lecturers to Foot the Bill for a Dean’s Budget Shortfalls

Update: Shortly after this story was published, OSU officials announced that lecturers’ contracts would be honored through the end of the 2017 academic year. Here is a link to a story about the announcement. On Oct. 25, an OSU spokesman provided a comment in which the college “regretted any confusion” about the possibility of mid-year firings of full-time English Dept. lecturers. 

by P.D. Lesko

The Tweet @AdjunctNation came bright and early at 9 a.m. on Monday October 24, 2016:

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Those who responded to the Tweet wondered why Ohio State University’s English Dept. was planning to dismiss 18 of its 28 lecturers. Others on Twitter were perplexed about how OSU’s English Dept. could award full-year contracts to its lecturers and then dismiss the lecturers mid-year. As it turns out, the story behind the proposed dismissal of 18 OSU lecturers teaching in the school’s College of Arts and Sciences can be traced back to 2015 and a $10 million dollar budget deficit and a further $4.6 million deficit that was plugged with cash savings in 2014. The $10 million deficit is 3.75 percent of the college’s annual budget and axing the English Dept. lecturers is expected to save between $500,000-$600,000.

Travis Neel is a Ph.D. candidate in OSU’s English Dept. and on Oct. 24 wrote about the projected dismissals on his blog:

The English Department at The Ohio State University is struggling to come up with the funds to fulfill the contracts for 18 adjunct lecturers. These folks have contracts that extend through the summer of 2017, so I do not quite understand how those arrangements can be terminated but that’s where we are. I will be attending the department meeting this afternoon to learn more and show my solidarity….No one has given an explanation for the shortfall, and no one at the College or the Division level appears ready to come up with the money to pay instructors (who let’s not forget already HAVE CONTRACTS FOR THE YEAR).

Dr. Robyn Worhol is interim chair of the OSU Dept. of English. When asked by email to confirm the projected dismissal of the 18 lecturers, Worhol responded:

The OSU College of Arts & Sciences has refused funding for the courses those Lecturers are scheduled to teach in Spring 2017. I have let the Lecturers know that I can’t guarantee they will all have courses in the Spring.  Their contract letters say “pending funding” and at present the funding has not come through. However, I am doing everything possible to secure that funding before registration for Spring courses ends.

The “pending funding” clause in the lecturers’ contracts explains how OSU’s English Dept. has the option of mid-year dismissals. This is a common clause in contracts between non-tenured faculty and their university employers. In fact, recent adjunct “job security” legislation backed by California union officials and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in Oct. 2016 includes a clause which allows adjunct faculty to be dismissed if funding for courses dries up or is cut.

At OSU, the budget deficits that plague the College of Arts and Sciences have resulted in finger-pointing. In 2015, leaders of 23 departments and centers in the college signed a letter to the university provost saying that they are losing confidence in Dean David Manderscheid. Among other complaints, they wrote that “his erratic handling and communication of our recent financial challenges has exacerbated problems of confidence to the point that he has lost the respect and trust of faculty in leadership positions within the college.”

Dean Manderscheid told The Columbus Dispatch in response to questions about the 2015 budget deficit: “I don’t believe in placing blame; I believe in moving forward.”

osu_english_support

Moving forward, however, means that departments in the College of Arts and Sciences have been asked to trim their budgets. That doesn’t mean that those in the OSU English Dept. agree with the College of Arts and Sciences’ decision to refuse to fund the 18 lectureships, as Interim Chair Robyn Worhol said in her email comment. A few hours after Travis Neel posted his Oct. 24 blog entry, the OSU English Dept. Tweeted out in support of its lecturers and adjunct faculty.

OSU Ph.D. candidate Travis Neel says that the budget deficits, dropping enrollment in the humanities, shrinking state revenue sharing and alleged corporatization of OSU are part of a larger trend. “We should understand what is happening here as part of larger conversations happening across the country (see the strikes in PA last week or the decision to eliminate degree programs at IPFW). But we must remember that these things that seem part of larger political, fiscal, or ideological conversations are taking their tolls on campuses, in classrooms, and on students as well as their instructors.”

“It is a tremendous perfect storm of events,” former Provost Joseph Steinmetz said in a 2015 interview with the local Columbus, OH newspaper. “At some points I’m just surprised that maybe this deficit isn’t larger.”

Steinmetz told the newspaper that stagnant university revenue had put a pinch on budgets. Tuition for in-state students has been frozen at Ohio State since the 2012-13 school year, and state subsidies have remained flat. Students, meanwhile, are coming to OSU with more general-education credits earned in high school, credits that students traditionally earned through Arts and Sciences classes.

The Nation published a scathing piece in 2014 (perhaps not coincidentally as the College of Arts and Sciences faced a multi-million dollar budget deficit) titled “What Makes Ohio State the Most Unequal Public University in America?” In that article, writer Jon Wiener wrote: “The ‘most unequal’ public university in America…is Ohio State. Between 2010 and 2012 it paid its president, Gordon Gee, a total of almost $6 million, while raising tuition and fees so much that student debt grew 23 percent faster than the national average.” It should be noted that Gee’s salary was about $1 million more than the total deficit faced by OSU’s College of Arts and Sciences which was plugged by college officials.

Wiener goes on to point out the correlation between high paid college presidents, the overuse and exploitation of adjunct faculty: “OSU, while paying its president $5.9 million, focused its faculty hiring on low wage part-timers, hiring 498 contingent and part-time but only forty-five permanent faculty members.”

OSU Dean David Mandersheid is facing pointed questions about his management of the college's school of Arts and Sciences.

OSU Dean David Mandersheid is facing pointed questions about his management of the college’s school of Arts and Sciences.

Faculty at OSU say that the deficits have been triggered by decisions to admit fewer students who want to study humanities. The number of students who applied to Ohio State planning to major in the humanities has increased by 30 percent since 2009, according to university data. But the number of humanities students admitted to the university fell by about 24 percent in that same span.

Harvey Graff, is a professor of English and history. He was quoted in the Columbus Dispatch as saying about OSU’s budget deficits: “Deficits are substantial and increasing. Budgets are continuing to be cut. Yet applications –– and student interest –– are rising in the humanities and sciences.”

OSU leaders say that the growth in humanities applications is significantly smaller than that of applications to study business and engineering. Total applications to the university more than doubled while humanities applications increased 30 percent, according to data collected by the Ohio Dept. of Education.

In 2015, OSU Provost Joseph Steinmetz told the Columbus Dispatch that his office planned to give $4 million to the College of Arts and Sciences, in part to offset the 2015 deficit.

“I’ve already made that commitment for the fiscal year ’16 budget,” Steinmetz said. “That’s the starting point. We’ll look at other things as well.”

In January of 2016, however, there arose a new Provost who knew not Joseph Steinmetz. The OSU Provost who had made the commitment to help Dean Manderscheid in the fiscal 2016 budget year to mitigate the College of Arts and Sciences’ budget deficit, left for a job as Chancellor at the University of Arkansas. Bruce A. McPheron became Ohio State’s permanent chief academic officer and provost on June 1, 2016. McPheron served for three years as the Dean of Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences and holds degrees in agricultural science from OSU and the University of Illinois—just the kind of academic background one might expect of an administrator who could be charged to grow STEM departments, enrollment and faculty. The Vice Provost at OSU, likewise, is a scientist by training.

As the managerial, financial and philosophical debates rage on concerning enrollment and funding of the humanities at OSU (and elsewhere), Interim English Dept. Chair Robyn Worhol and others in her department seek to convince a new Provost to fund the 18 lectureships before the end of the present semester.

OSU English Dept. Ph.D. candidate Travis Neel isn’t confident that English Dept. leadership can secure funding for the positions. He writes, “I will be interested to see what Dean, Provost, or other administrative official chimes in as the English Department wrestles with ways to fund their colleagues, to fulfill instructor contracts, to teach students, and to offer the courses that draw folks into our discipline, but I won’t be at all surprised if the decision to fire my friends comes from someone who has never served as #contingentacademiclabor.”

In short, faculty members want OSU leaders to offset the College of Arts and Sciences’ budget deficits and to rethink practices that have contributed to the deficits. Those practices include “taxes” that the central OSU administration imposes on colleges for campus-wide services, and pay raises given across campus. OSU leaders, who created the nation’s largest College of Arts and Sciences in 2009 by combining multiple schools in the campus, are faced with a money-losing behemoth. However, during the same period that OSU paid its president close to $6 million in salary and hired only forty-five permanent faculty members, it hired 670 new administrators.

When asked if his plan was to have tenure-line and tenured faculty teach the courses taught by the 18 dismissed English Dept. lecturers, Dean Manderscheid, through an OSU spokesman, chose not to reply. A spokesman for OSU, Benjamin Johnson, sent along the following response  via email on October 25 to our questions about the mid-year dismissal of OSU English Dept. lecturers: “As a large, comprehensive university, Ohio State values the role that our lecturers and other associated faculty play in supporting and furthering our overall educational mission. The College of Arts and Sciences will be working with the Department of English to address these budget challenges. We acknowledge the concerns expressed regarding the associated faculty in the Department of English and regret any confusion. Ohio State will honor the appointment lengths of their respective offer letters; no mid-year faculty changes will be made. Lecturers and associated faculty are often among our most appreciated and dedicated teachers and bring particular expertise and experience.”

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