The core of the current disagreement we have with the University of Akron (UA) Administration centers on the University’s finances. Their position is that the pandemic forced them to lay off a large number of faculty members. Our position is that they have overstated the University’s budget deficit; that most of the deficit preceded the COVID-19 pandemic; that there are more cost savings to be had in other parts of the budget; and that, although the Administration may not want to make those cuts, they certainly can make those cuts. Although we have made the arbitration briefs from both sides available here, we recognize that they are long, and for that reason, we present some of the arguments below (a quick note before we start – although 96 bargaining unit faculty (BUF) received layoff notices on July 15, that number is now down to 67 after retirements and voluntary separations):
The FY 2021 $65 million deficit is now $7.8 million (really effectively $0 – or it could be in “15 minutes”).
State Share of Instruction is Greater than Administration’s Budget Projection
You have heard the Administration repeatedly cite a projected $65 million budget shortfall this year due to the effects of the pandemic. This figure assumes that SSI (State Share of Instruction) coming from Columbus to UA will decrease by $20 million this fiscal year, but that projection has now been decreased to a $9 million reduction. The Administration argues that continuing to assume a $20 million reduction in SSI is still appropriate because the “current projection is subject to change in the future” (p. 47 of the Administration’s brief). Although none of us know what the future may bring, especially during a pandemic, uncertainty no more justifies an inflated estimate than a deflated one, and shedding 96 BUF positions (now 67) proactively cannot be justified.
Enrollment is Better than Administration’s Budget Projection
The $65 million figure also assumed a decline in enrollment for Fall 2020 of 20%. As of the first day of classes, actual Fall enrollment declined just 7.1% from Fall 2019. That 12.9% difference adds up to a staggering amount of money–nearly $20 million (using the Administration’s figure of a $30,653,000 loss if enrollment declined 20%). The Administration, at its most recent Board of Trustees meeting on August 12, belatedly recognized the SSI reduction and approved an FY2021 budget with a $7.8 million draw on reserves. Significantly, the Board assumes a -15.0% drop in enrollment when their own numbers showed the drop to be approximately half of that (-8.1% as of August 12, the same day as the Board meeting). As explained in Akron-AAUP’s opening brief, using the actual (then-current) enrollment projections produces a projected surplus of $2.7 million (see page 17). Subtracting the $6.9 million cost to reinstate all 67 faculty remaining on the RIF list results in a deficit of only $4.2 million. However, the final enrollment numbers are 1% better than last projected, adding another $1.5 million. If the Board accepted the already proposed salary reductions and increased healthcare contributions savings of approximately $2 million, which would take “15 minutes” to agree to, that would take the deficit to less than $1 million–essentially a rounding error. The budget deficit can be effectively wiped out if only the Administration and the Board of Trustees are willing to work with the Chapter; instead, they filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Chapter while claiming the Chapter is litigious. It’s important to note here that the total calculated “savings” from 67 faculty layoffs is $6.9 million–a figure swamped by the $31 million net savings from these 2 erroneous projections (SSI and enrollment improvements) alone.
Budget shortfalls at UA come from an old (and tired) playbook.
A Consistent Trend of ‘Amazing’ Budget Recovery
Over the last decade, the Administration has projected budget shortfalls repeatedly, only to miraculously recover from them by the end of the fiscal year. Two memorable predictions are from 2016-2017, where the whole campus labored under a projected $30 million budget shortfall, only to see a $12 million surplus! Then the $29 million projected shortfall for the next year became only a $5 million deficit. Despite this, the Administration states that “Dating back to fiscal year 2011, the University’s fiscal reports at each ended fiscal year evidence this pattern of fiscal method and rigor” (Administration opening brief, p. 9).
Another ‘Miraculous’ Recovery
As noted above, the projected $65 million deficit for FY 21 used to justify the Administration’s actions is now only a $7.8 million deficit in the proposed budget, and can easily be less with concessions. Not surprisingly, this projected deficit still relies on an overly pessimistic enrollment assumption.
If UA’s finances have been managed well, why is it the only state university in Ohio that has fired tenured faculty due to COVID-19?
Faculty Cuts Regardless of Financial Reality
The rest of the state universities in Ohio are dealing with COVID-19 and facing the same changes in SSI and other revenue — but no other university has taken such drastic measures. Indeed, the other universities in Ohio reduced their planned cuts when the projection for SSI improved. UA is the only university that proceeded with no changes.
Any Excuse in a Storm
The Administration’s arbitration brief claims that everything was fine at UA before COVID-19. So why does the Administration cite declining enrollment since 2008 as part of their rationale for firing 96 BUF?
Wage and benefit concessions offered by Akron-AAUP negotiators were rejected by the Administration.
The Administration emphasizes repeatedly throughout their arbitration brief that the Akron-AAUP is the “only employee unit at the University who has not contributed to the FY20 or FY21 budgetary shortfall through wage and benefit concessions.” However, they do not acknowledge that the Chapter’s negotiating team offered significantly greater wage and benefit concessions (compared to the other bargaining units) during this past summer’s negotiations in an effort to save faculty positions. The Administration rejected these offers and insisted on eliminating positions.
Athletics is gone this Fall, but coaching salaries and perks aren’t.
In his video address to the UA community (7/17/20), President Miller mentions the furlough policy approved by the Board of Trustees under his recommendation. The MAC suspended all Fall 2020 sports Aug 8, 2020, yet no coaching staff has been furloughed, even under these ‘catastrophic’ economic circumstances. The coaching staff at UA includes several of the highest-paid individuals at our institution, and many have force majeure clauses in their contracts; shouldn’t furloughs be implemented for them while sports are suspended?
We have made these arguments, and we will restate them and more in our response brief (available soon). We encourage you to read the documents yourself. Feel free to contribute your ideas to the Negotiating Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.