A year has passed since the University of Akron Board of Trustees voted to terminate the positions of 97 full-time faculty, citing a financial crisis brought to a head by the conditions created by COVID 19.
Since that time, Akron-AAUP has pushed for greater financial transparency and accountability in the hopes of preventing anything like the reduction-in-force (RIF) action from happening again. In April, the Chapter and Administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) designed to improve shared governance procedures and which included a section detailing the process by which the Administration would keep the Chapter informed regarding its finances.
We are able to report that, so far, the Administration has been as transparent as we could have hoped. They have given full budget updates not just to Akron-AAUP but to the university community as a whole through the University Council. We are also encouraged by Dallas Grundy’s (the University of Akron’s Chief Financial Officer) openness to answering our questions.
Of course, a primary question for us has been the possibility of rehiring the faculty on the RIF list, given the approximately $40 million in reserves. This is the answer we received from Grundy to share with you:
Re. the rehiring of RIF’d faculty, please consider that we have an approximate $40 million surplus in our reserves (much like a savings account) for one year and we are projecting that for the next several years we will need to draw on savings to maintain current operations. Those draws are anticipated to be substantial and will use up the $40 million surplus and more – which could cause the university to have accreditation issues. To hire people back on a permanent basis would put us back in the position to possibly reduce force within a year or so. Our current workforce more closely reflects the staffing that is consistent with our reduced enrollment. Once enrollment grows, then we can expand staff. We will continue to review the RIF list and seek to reinstate faculty whenever feasible and prudent. We have done so in multiple cases over the past year and we will continue to look for these opportunities.
As Grundy notes, some faculty have been hired back – three, so far. Our Grievance Team continues to work through the grievance process on behalf of the RIF faculty who requested representation, with fourteen cases brought to the Step Two phase. So far, the Akron-AAUP Executive Committee has voted to take three RIF or RIF-related cases to arbitration. Arbitration is costly, but we believe these cases have a solid chance of prevailing.
We will continue to keep you updated on our efforts to bring back the faculty who were included in the RIF action and to continue to press the Administration to prioritize spending on the academic mission.