Career Faculty Face Layoff or Non-Renewal

Executive Summary: Officers of United Academics met with senior administrators to discuss current and future efforts to respond to COVID-19. We pushed admin to make a commitment to the Career faculty who could lose their jobs in the near future. The administration did not make any commitments.

On Friday, four officers from United Academics met with President Mike Schill, Provost Patrick Philips, and Labor Relations Director Missy Matella to discuss the administration’s current actions in regard to COVID-19 and the prospects for the next term and beyond.

President Schill reviewed the three priorities driving administrative decision-making. He discussed the almost-heroic lengths many administrators were going to keep abreast of developments, make plans, and keep the university running. He fears burnout among many of them, and he expressed a desire to make sure they get at least one day off a week.

He also discussed with us the need for all of the university community to come together to ensure that the students receive the best educational experience they can under the circumstances. There is a real concern that many of our students may fall behind in their studies and not graduate on time. He emphasized the need for faculty to keep students engaged while teaching remotely so that they stay enrolled in their classes. Of course, there is also a fear of what a lack of enrollment in Spring or Fall term might do to the university’s finances.

The discussion of community and the need for everyone to pitch in and help each other out took a bit of a turn when Tina Boscha, Chair of Organizing and Membership, mentioned that many Career instructional faculty – the very people who are pitching in and going above and beyond – have a real fear of non-renewal notices in the next month or so. Her concerns were echoed by Vice President for Communications Eleanor Wakefield. VP for Non-Tenure Track Research Faculty Christina Karns expanded on their points and raised the fear of massive layoffs that many Career faculty in the grant-funded research areas of campus feel.

In response, Director Matella highlighted the administration’s commitment to provide all employees with at least 80 hours of sick leave at 100% salary, even though the federal government had only mandated that employers provide 67% of salary. The university’s uncertain finances prevent the administration from making any commitments beyond the 80 hours of sick leave.

Christina did a fantastic job of pushing the administration on this subject. She pointed out that the institution itself needs to take on financial risk, rather than pass it on to vulnerable faculty. She also noted that the rhetoric about coming together as a community to support each other stands in stark contrast to the unwillingness of the administration to commit to supporting faculty, particularly in allaying their concerns about nonrenewal. She argued that not only is it the right thing to do for the faculty who are working overtime to provide quality education, but it would also send the message to our students that the university is stable. She also pointed out that, should our labs be forced to close, we will need the excellent and experienced faculty to pick up their research projects where they left off, and we can’t afford to hope they will not have found other jobs in the meantime.

Unfortunately, the administration was unwilling to make any commitment to our Career faculty beyond the 80 hours of sick time. Asked if they had considered allowing faculty with large amounts of sick time to donate it to faculty who have little or who may be laid off, they said they had not considered that and would be concerned about the financial impact of such a scheme.

Our conversation concluded with a discussion of a few items we had previously raised with administration. We asked why the libraries were still open, despite the Governor’s executive order that only “critical functions” remain open on campus, and the library closures at OSU, PSU, and Lane. We were told that the administrators in the room did not know why they were still open, but if they remain open, they must be a critical function. We renewed our call for faculty on the tenure track without tenure to be given the option of an extra year toward tenure. We were told the Provost agreed with this idea and an announcement would be made soon (it has not). Finally, we encouraged the administration to agree and announce that all class-related materials posted on Canvas, Zoom, or anywhere else would remain in the intellectual property of the faculty. They indicated that they thought the Provost had already done this but would look at making their commitment more clear.

Wrapping up, President Schill returned to the theme of community and the administration’s commitment to ensuring good people remain in place through the duration of the crisis. He pointed to areas of campus where people were continuing to receive pay, despite not having any immediate work to do. UA agrees with this principle: we cannot lose good people over a short-term crisis. But currently, not all employee groups are being protected.

There are approximately 200 Career instructional faculty facing possible non-renewal on May 1. There are another 400 Career research faculty who could be laid off any day if our labs shut down and they cannot work from home. The administration has made no commitment to these employees beyond 80 hours of sick leave at full pay.

The officers of United Academics met on Friday afternoon to discuss the situation and formulate a response. We will be talking with stewards and reps early next week and will be following up with membership soon. We know that every faculty member is committed to student education and quality research. At this time, our dedication must be matched with a commitment to all faculty from the administration.