In March of 2019, Akron-AAUP surveyed Bargaining Unit Faculty for their views on UA’s senior administrative leaders, the state of the University, and various major policy initiatives.
The results of the survey paint a picture of an administration–in particular Chief Administrative Officer Rex Ramsier–which is operating in a way that is antithetical to the mission of the university. Faculty believe that profitable programs are being closed with no meaningful discussion, that their research and service activities will be under attack through the imposition of increased teaching loads, and that faculty are being targeted unfairly for dismissal. Morale is at an all time low at the precise time we should be working together to strengthen our academic offerings in order to attract prospective students and retain current ones. Faculty feel harassed and have described to us a workplace environment that is hostile and toxic. This situation inevitably harms students, since the faculty’s working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.
In light of the seriousness of what we heard from the faculty, Akron-AAUP Chapter President Pamela Schulze contacted The University of Akron Board of Trustees to communicate the results of the survey, and to try and find a way of working with the Board to improve the situation. Schulze shared our findings with the chair of the Board of Trustees on March 25th and other members of the Board of Trustees on Tuesday, April 9th. Following these meetings, the BOT moved then-Provost Rex Ramsier to the position of Chief Administrative Officer and named Chand Midha as Interim Chief Academic Officer.
We had hoped that this shift in responsibilities would alleviate the urgency of the situation, but in fact, Rex Ramsier has continued to operate as de facto provost and is responsible for academic matters such as academic workload, faculty contract enforcement/grievances, academic contracts (particularly the 30 hour contracts for Wayne College and College of Applied Science and Technology faculty), academic scheduling/ determining class sizes, and faculty conflict of interest compliance. If anything, UA’s academic leadership situation has worsened in the last few months.
As you will read in the detailed timeline (appended to this report), Akron-AAUP leadership has made repeated efforts to resolve the situation. But coming to a collective agreement requires two partners, and the University has been unwilling to engage in meaningful discussions.
We believe that if UA continues on the path they are following, irreparable damage will be done to the academic mission of the university. To protect our students and programs, we urgently request that:
The administration meet with Akron-AAUP to come to an agreement on how the duties of the provost as specified in the CBA translate into the positions of chief academic officer and chief administrative officer.
Rex Ramsier be relieved of any administrative responsibilities involving the faculty. Faculty responding to our survey indicate that he has repeatedly abused his power and that he does not have the confidence of the faculty.
Once the new president is named, UA immediately launches a search for a new provost, and abandons the co-equal positions of chief academic officer and chief administrative officer, as attempts to make this split workable have failed.
Any reorganization of the academic side of the university be put on hold until the new president has assumed office.
Any changes to faculty workload policies be put on hold until the new provost has assumed office.
We are providing a summary of the survey results below. We have included a selection of the written comments to help you understand the nature and severity of the problems. Please understand that while the faculty continues to try our hardest to provide the best possible learning environment for our students, our ability to do so is being actively hindered by senior leadership. We cannot continue to allow this to happen.
Approximately 40% of faculty responded (the survey lasted for only 4 days). Faculty came from every college, roughly proportionate to their distribution on campus.
There are a number of key findings, detailed in the tables below. First, approximately two-thirds of responding faculty see the University, their College and their Department/School as worse off than it was two years ago.
Unfortunately, current senior leadership is not faring well. On each of the issues below, the share of responding faculty who think that Interim President Green is doing a “fair” or “poor” job greatly outnumber those who see his performance as “outstanding” or “very good.” More than two-thirds of the faculty see Interim President Green doing a “poor” or “fair” job of treating the faculty with respect, supporting their needs and applying the Collective Bargaining contract and University rules fairly. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, 8 times as many faculty (72%) judge his overall performance as “poor” or “fair” as opposed to “outstanding” or “very good” (9%).
Provost Ramsier is judged even more critically: at least 9 out of every 10 survey participants hold that he has done a “poor” or “fair” job in treating faculty with respect, promoting the academic mission UA, supporting faculty needs and applying the contract and university rules fairly. Only 2% of faculty rate Provost Ramsier’s performance as outstanding or very good, while fully 95% of faculty judge Provost Ramsier’s overall performance as poor or fair.
Given how little support the faculty gives the Interim President and the Provost, it is understandable that 76% of faculty believe that shared governance is not working well at UA.
The central administration has pushed 3 major initiatives in the last two academic years: Academic Program Review (APR), the revision/development of unit workload policies, and a potential academic reorganization. Seventy percent of faculty reported being extremely concerned (“9” and “10” on the 10 point scale below) that such major decisions are being made with interim leadership.
Although UA has taken a short pause in its program reorganization plans, these efforts are supposed to resume in the fall. Faculty, by substantial margins, think that these efforts will do more harm than good (65% vs 12%) and that they will not strengthen UA academically (65% vs 5%). Furthermore, more than 80% of responding faculty agree that program reorganization should be delayed until we have hired a permanent President and permanent Provost.
The push for workload policy fares somewhat better, though almost 4 times as many faculty (55% vs 15%) think that the effort could have been better spent elsewhere. More than 70% agree that workload should await the new President and Provost, and perhaps quite tellingly, by a ratio of almost 20:1 faculty see the push for workload policy primarily as a way to increase teaching loads.
Almost half of all respondents provided answers to our open-ended questions about any other concerns that they had about UA. Some representative comments are:
“Rex Ramsier is single-handedly destroying our university by targeting faculty, programs, departments, and administrators he has a personal disdain for based upon his own biases and prejudices. We need a vote of no confidence in OAA / Rex Ramsier. His policies are simply strong-arm tactics to control everyone and everything at UA. He is not smart but he is vindictive. He believes that he understands every discipline and program better than faculty yet that is an impossibility; it is pure arrogance. OAA has put deans in place who are obedient to him. These minions will do anything to preserve their paychecks and power including demoralizing faculty and destroying students’ education.”
“There is significant concern about how the Provost handles faculty matters. Some people get preferential treatment, others are treated with disdain. I have heard comments about how unsettling his “leadership” is from colleagues in every single college on this campus. I also don’t understand why we’re spending time and energy (and money, likely) on reorganizing the university while we are searching for a new president. It seems more efficient to have a president in place before we make any radical changes. Hopefully that new president’s first move will be to hire a new provost– then we all will be able to breathe and work easier.”
“Fire the provost asap. As a tenured faculty I am actively looking to leave UA. He treats faculty with disrespect in public, and is authoritarian. In private meetings he is even more disrespectful and appears to think that people are expendable. He is one of the major problems at UA. He has exerted undue influence on all past presidents, and is part of the cause of hostility and resentment among faculty.”
“The major problem is that the administration appears to be staffed with individuals who either don’t believe in public universities or don’t have a clue how one should work. With exceptions … , I have been completely underwhelmed by the administrators that have been appointed to leadership posts in my 30+ years at the university. It seems like incompetence or moral turpitude are entry requirements for an administrative position.”
“I’m on the tenure track and I’m extremely worried about the state of the university as well as the current leadership, especially the Provost. The tenure research demand is still the same for us but there is no resources to do research (no graduate assistant, no research budget, etc).”
“The Provost search needs to happen immediately and is the greatest threat to the University; while there are many efforts of the Provost that are sorely needed (e.g. workload revisions) there is widespread, persistent inconsistency in how faculty are treated, policies implemented, and decisions made from the Provost’s office. Regardless of whether it is true, for so long the perception has been that the Provost is “out to get” certain departments and this has a ripple effect across campus/programs. He is openly hostile and has created a climate where faculty do not trust or respect his decisions/office. In my opinion, the Provost search is more important for morale and the future of this institution.”
“The real issue of this institution is Rex Ramsier the Provost. He should not be in his position and should be forced to step down, he is only hurting and damaging us and does not do anything positive to this university. Ramsier is unfair, disrespectful, dishonest, and immature. He needs to go. He should not have anything to do with faculty or academics. He is the biggest problem we have here, and we should continue to fight him until he is gone. Nothing will get better until he is gone and moved from his position as Provost. Please do something about him before it is too late for this school. It is unreal that after all he has done, he is still holding his position.”
“Based on Rex’s track record, it is difficult to trust these recent initiatives are for the betterment of the university. While the workload policy is state-mandated and long overdue, coupling it with reorganization seems to be an attempt to cause so much disruption and faculty discontent that it will keep good candidates from applying for the president position. The reorganization with no permanent Deans and a failed presidential search would guarantee Rex at least another year of complete power and control.”
“Senior leadership is totally disastrous. No major changes to academic policies or university structure should be made until we have new leadership. The program cuts were particularly awful: the “faculty participation” was a total sham. We need a president and a provost who do not regard the faculty as the enemy, or as lazy good-for-nothings who must be whipped into shape.”
“This trend of moving away from tenure-track to NTT and adjuncts is scary. Faculty lines are being denied and we are closing many elective courses. So, even when teaching load is not increasing directly, it has created a situation where course changes are frequent and new preps are increasing. I agree, when we are tightening our belts, some reorganization is necessary and I support that. However, we do not seem to have any long-term strategy and the enrollment is not showing any improvement, if the strategies are working. We practically killed the graduate programs by removing GAs and tuition waivers and is no longer an attractive destination for international students.”
“The administration makes decisions, forces faculty to go through the motions of discussion and analysis so that the administration can say they participated in shared governance, and then continues with the pre-established decision. The Provost controls the university and is unethical, a bully, and is retaliatory toward anyone who does not agree with him. He needs to go immediately before he totally destroys this university.”
“I am repeatedly impressed by faculty, who when considering work directed by upper administration, such as reorganization, program assessment (this year), faculty program evaluation (last year), workload policy, stand up for students, want to see the data/hard rationale, and examine ramifications, in part because they are living the ramifications of senior administrative decisions made years ago. Examples are PhD faculty not hired and then faculty experiencing doctoral and graduate programs die as faculty are then told they need to now recruit and market programs, doing more with less, and being held for outcomes when decisions bringing about those outcomes were made unilaterally and by senior leadership. University presidents have come and gone. What’s constant is the presence and role of Rex. I accept that data drive and inform but let’s be sure our measures are valid and interpretations are fully informed.”
“Several of the items asked about enforcement of rules. Provost Ramsier is a master of of enforcing rules – when it suits him. He essentially wields them as a weapon against the faculty. He also seems to have extremely little, if any at all, respect for faculty. or the joke that has become “shared governance” at this university. Even when faculty in the university or a college overwhelmingly favor or vote for something, he seemingly capriciously decides to go against them, with no explanation provided. He obviously controls everything at this university. There is no point anymore to have the seemingly endless levels and hierarchies of voting on potential decisions since he will end up just doing what he wanted in the first place.”
“The state of the University of Akron is very disturbing. Many faculty are actively looking to leave the university and so I expect the quality of education and student experience will be degraded even if none of the current half-baked plans come to fruition. There are far too many interim positions and the lack of hiring new tenure-track faculty will continue to cause instability. Broad planning must begin with a vision and purpose and then proceed to plans on how to enact that vision. Working from the other direction will only lead to further problems in the future. The inexplicable decision making processes that seem to originate from the board of trustees and Provost Ramsier are unacceptable and have already severely damaged the functioning of the university by drastically reducing the funding for graduate students and cutting programs.”
APPENDIX: Timeline of Akron-AAUP’s efforts
On April 17th, Interim President Green emailed the campus to report that the Board of Trustees had “completed” an earlier action by “dividing the leadership of the Office of Academic Affairs into two positions: executive vice president/chief academic officer, and executive vice president/chief administrative officer effective immediately.” Although the Board resolution provided some details about the duties of each of these two new positions, the fundamental issue for Akron-AAUP is that this unilateral decision by the Board to split the provost’s duties into two positions was at odds with the CBA. As we shared with the administration, there are more than 40 specific mentions of the provost’s roles/responsibilities in the CBA (11 times the provost may substitute a “designee”) but there are no roles or responsibilities for either a “chief academic officer” or a “chief administrative officer.” In light of this, we requested and scheduled a meeting between senior UA and Akron-AAUP leadership and our respective outside attorneys. Our goal was simple: to review every mention of “provost” in the CBA and to arrive at a collective agreement at to which duties belong to the chief academic officer. As you will read in the timeline below, UA has never met with us to bargain over this extremely important matter.
May 2: Green said in Senate that Interim Chief Academic Officer Chand Midha would handle “all academic matters”, and that “when in doubt, see Chand first.” He said that he had a scheduled meeting with Akron-AAUP to discuss the role and the meaning of the word “provost” in the CBA scheduled for the next day.
Green also promised Faculty Senate Chair Linda Saliga that he would work with Faculty Senate Executive Committee (FSEC) on workload.
May 3: Green canceled the meeting scheduled later this day with Akron-AAUP because he was sick. Akron-AAUP President Pam Schulze asked Chief Administrative Officer Ramsier in an email if we would reschedule, and he said there were no plans to do so (the meeting was never rescheduled).
May 3 (and subsequent conversations in May): – the chapter’s attorney notified us that the administration’s position was that we should communicate only with Ramsier, and that the administration’s outside attorney Steve Nobil had advised Green not to directly communicate with the chapter.
May 15: At a Labor Management Policy Committee (LMP) meeting between UA and Akron-AAUP, Ramsier told us what his and Midha’s duties were.
May 16: After a FSEC meeting with Green and Midha, Saliga asked to meet with Green privately to discuss the provost split; Schulze asked to attend as well.
May 20: Schulze and Saliga met with Green. Green displayed a document on a large monitor in his office that he said was something that general counsel was working on. He went through articles in the CBA and their interpretation of who the word “provost” referred to. He said that once general counsel was finished with the list of CBA duties, they would present it to the chapter, and we would negotiate over it.
Green said that Ramsier would have a minimal role in workload policy, and that Midha would take the lead. He also said that faculty conflict of interest forms would go to Midha. He said that each instance of the mention of the word “provost” in the senate bylaws refers to the chief academic officer. Academic scheduling and class size would also be Midha’s purview.
We were told that Ramsier would move out of the OAA offices, and that Midha would move in. Green wanted the positions to be fully clarified and separated within a month.
June 6: Schulze met with Ramsier privately. He informed Schulze that he would be tasked with workload and that all COI forms from faculty would go to him. He said that if anyone said otherwise, then they were misinformed. He claimed not to be aware of a document from General Counsel–he said that there were probably multiple emails. Schulze told him what she saw was a document, not an email. He did not confirm or deny its existence, but said that if we had any questions we should just talk to him.
June 19: Schulze emailed Green requesting the document from general counsel. He replied saying, “apparently there is no single document on this matter, so I was in error when I talked with you and Linda…I have learned that the administrative [sic] is not comfortable sharing what materials do exist because of implications for collective bargaining.” (emphasis added)
July 8: At an LMP meeting, Ramsier reiterated that he was working on workload documents; he said we would be notified when there was a dollar amount determined for faculty replacements.
July 10: Saliga, University Council Chair Phil Allen and Schulze had a scheduled appointment with Green to discuss the provost split. He canceled the meeting without explanation. When Schulze asked (in an email) why it was canceled, she was told by his executive assistant that there was a schedule conflict (Green did not reply himself). The meeting was never rescheduled.
July 17: – The chapter issued a public records request for documents and correspondence regarding the provost split. To date, we have not received the information we requested, though we were informed on July 26th that they will follow up on the request.
July 22: Green informed Saliga about budget allocation for new positions including faculty hires. The chapter had not been informed, so Schulze emailed Ramsier, requesting an LMP meeting with Ramsier to discuss faculty replacements following VSRP. Schulze asked that Midha attend the meeting. Ramsier replied that since he was present when Midha explained the priority ranking for new hires to the deans, that Ramsier could relay that information to us. Schulze replied that she preferred not to get the information second hand, and that she would like to have a meeting with Midha present so that we could have a discussion. On July 25th, Ramsier replied, “I am sure you can have your questions answered at today’s FSEC meeting with the President and Chief Academic Officer, where you are representing the FS, not AAUP.” The chapter’s position is that representation on FSEC is no substitute for the contractual obligation to meet with the chapter’s Labor Management Policy committee to discuss the size and composition of the faculty. In the chapter’s view, the term provost refers to the chief academic officer. That was the original intent of the language to which both parties agreed.
July 25: Faculty hires were not discussed in FSEC. Comments from Midha and Green in the Three Year Action Plan meetings and in the July 25th FSEC meeting were consistent with Ramsier’s previous assertions that he was tasked with developing the new workload policies. The majority of the documents had little resemblance to the documents that the faculty developed for their units. Green had forgotten about the guidance document that FSEC developed, and when he was reminded of it, asked for a copy.
To date, the FSEC has not worked with OAA on workload. The FSEC has just been informed of what was presented to the deans, and they met once to state their concerns about it.