The University of Akron Board of Trustees has approved a budget that includes no faculty layoffs and $10.4 million in funds for strategic re-investment, along with repeated references to preserving the “academic core” of UA. But to be clear: while faculty have not been officially laid-off, we have endured a slow and steady decline of more than 20% (in terms of student-faculty ratio) by attrition in the last five years. For an institution that aspires to be a “great university,” this is unacceptable and entirely counter-productive.
In 1999, there was 1 faculty member for every 19 students. Last year, even before the departures of at least fifty full-time faculty members who have retired or resigned since spring of 2015, this ratio was 1 for more than every 23 students. If we had the same student-faculty ratio last year as we had in 1999, UA would have had 190 more FT faculty. These additional faculty would have taught more and smaller classes, mentored more students, provided the service and committee work that keeps the university functioning, produced more research and creative endeavors, and attracted more external funding – in other words, improved student success and UA’s academic standing and reputation well beyond NE Ohio.
The $10.4 million strategic re-investment fund is an opportunity to rebuild our academic core–the one element of a great university that is essential. The Akron-AAUP proposes the following for the $10.4 million that the Board has clearly demonstrated exists for investment.
In 2014-15, UA employed 96 full-time visiting lecturers, faculty who cannot be expected to undertake research or perform service, many of whom have worked here for two or more years. The number of visiting faculty for 2015-16 is at least that high. Not counting the law school, visiting faculty constitute 1 out of every 8 FT faculty members. All of these positions have been approved by the UA Administration as strategically important–if not, these visiting faculty would not have been hired. These positions are distributed across departments and colleges, and all are necessary.The fact that these positions have been approved in a time of budget crisis indicates their importance.
Our proposal is to replace these visiting faculty with regular faculty. The hiring process can begin immediately as the budget clearly has funds available for this. The need for these positions has already been established by departments and approved by the Administration. If the UA administration is serious about protecting and improving its academic core, then re-investing funds strategically to provide students with full-time faculty who have a continuing commitment to the university is a significant first step.
The Administration estimates that tenured and tenure-track faculty, on average, cost $100,000 each, including salary and benefits. We propose that the $10.4 million be invested in 100 new TT faculty, replacing temporary visitors with permanent faculty. Alternatively, since NTT faculty are hired at about ⅔ the salary of TT faculty, UA can hire 100 new full-time faculty members, at a ratio of 2 TT faculty for each 1 NTT faculty member, and save over $1 million of the approved 10.4M, more than enough to pay for off-campus student services, the university press, additional support staff and the costs of national searches for new faculty.
To add context, Cleveland State, a smaller university that faces the same demographic and state funding challenges as UA, has already announced that it has begun searches for 36 new tenure-track and 10 new NTT positions for fall 2016.
Replacing the 100 or so visiting faculty will free up the funds currently used to pay their salaries and benefits–an additional sum of more than $4 million. These funds should be spent in a number of ways:
Provide health benefits to part-time faculty who teach 8 or more hours a semester. This would allow departments to hire the most experienced and qualified adjuncts at a rate more competitive with neighboring institutions, improving students’ educational experience and ensuring greater commitment of those adjuncts to the university.
Give raises to faculty and department chairs. It has been two years since our last raise, and although we had caught up to the Ohio median in faculty wages, we are falling behind again. Continuing to fall behind will just make it harder to hire the best faculty, the ones who attract students and build the University’s reputation.
Hire back some of the non-administrative personnel who were just let go, but who perform jobs that are absolutely critical for student success..
Although these just scratch the surface of UA’s needs, we believe that they are elements of a good plan–one that re-affirms the Administration’s stated interest in turning UA into a great public university.
It is undeniable that the Board-approved budget already includes funds that are more than adequate to fund such an initiative without any further cuts to current programs, student services, or personnel.
it is The Akron-AAUP’s unequivocal position that any plan to become “a great university” that does not include significant investment in full time permanent faculty is unrealistic and cannot succeed.