By Ron Fields, English and World Languages Lecturer
The poet Matthew Arnold once wrote, “Truth sits upon the lips of dying men.” Although I am not dying, my time here at YSU draws to a close. I and six other full-time lecturers at the university have learned that our contracts are not being renewed for the next year. This comes after, as The Jambar has reported, several tenure-track and tenured faculty were also let go. So, since my days are numbered — 30 of them, to be precise — I thought I’d take a few minutes to speak the truth.
First, do not trust that the university has your best interests in mind unless you are a provost, associate provost, dean, vice president or president. Their goal is simply to increase the numbers of bodies in the seats, and they will always choose quantity over quality. If quality really mattered, they would push for smaller class sizes and better pay for better teachers.
Second, do not count on the Academic Senate to do anything that could hold the administration accountable for anything whatsoever. The reason for this is simple: There are many administrators in the Academic Senate. As part of human nature, faculty are less likely to call someone to task if they are sitting right there in the room with them. I am a senator representing BCLASSE, and I can speak to this. In its present form, the Academic Senate is little more than a rubber-stamping authority for anything that the upper administration wants to happen.
Third, and most importantly, do not count on the Board of Trustees to speak up for the students or faculty. The Board of Trustees can only make decisions with the information presented to them, and they routinely only hear from university administration. They are getting quite literally one side of a very complicated story.
I have been in several meetings with our dean who, when pressed with questions about teaching or release time, was quick to suggest that adjunct, part-time instructors could easily be hired to fill any gaps. What our dean, Charlie Howell, may not realize is that people are not exactly beating down the doors to come teach at YSU. Part-time faculty have not received a pay raise in at least the past 20 years. And the university’s official response to criticism about the lack of pay raises for part-time faculty has been, insultingly, to say that they have been overpaid for the past 20 years and are now being paid fairly. As I am on the hiring committee for part-time faculty in English and World Languages, I can say this with certainty: There are four applications on file right now for people who want to teach English for us. Four.
Students and part-time faculty, please know that of all those at this university, it is YOU who have real power. Students: If you care about academics and are dissatisfied with what’s going on, then tell your adviser this when you register for fall classes: “I am choosing to not register for classes at this time as a protest against the university’s questionable dedication to academics.”
Part-time faculty, you have perhaps the most power of all; it is not possible for you all to be replaced. The university relies on your labor far more than many people realize. They see you as replaceable and expendable. When being scheduled for classes in the fall, just tell your chair that you do not wish to teach in the fall for a university which does not prioritize academics. Let them try to replace you. If enough of you do this, then the administration will notice. You are prohibited from being in a labor union by Ohio state law, but you absolutely have the right to discuss collectively what needs to happen, and then make it so. Talk with your colleagues. Set a meeting date. Brainstorm approaches and set a plan in motion if job security, pay and the future of higher education really matter to you.
Had the university not decided to hire a few more coaches at the same time as letting faculty go, I probably wouldn’t have written this letter. Had they not commissioned a feasibility study for remodeling or rebuilding Kilcawley Center at the same time as divesting from education, I might have stayed silent.
I don’t hate YSU. I love it here, and cleaning out my office was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I’m going to work in the private sector now, and will probably make a lot more money. But I never wanted this job for the $42,000 I was paid. I wanted to teach because I was, apparently, far more passionate about education than the people who run this school.
I write this letter out of love for this university, and what it used to represent. What YSU now represents is a third-rate university, run by a top-heavy administration who is lacking in both creativity and effective problem-solving skills. It is led by people who do not know how to lead, who resort to cutting academic programs as an answer to fiscal challenge. And that’s the death-knell for any place of learning.