Layoffs were expected for an unknown number associated faculty members in the Department of English, as of Sunday afternoon. Those layoffs, which were to come at the end of Fall Semester 2016, were postponed Monday afternoon.
The associated faculty were originally hired with the expectation that funding for Fall Semester 2017 would not be guaranteed. But the contracts for this year only guarantee positions for the full academic year “pending funding,” according to an email obtained by The Lantern, sent to English department lecturers on Sunday from Robyn Warhol, the interim department chair.
“This is that dreaded circumstance where the anticipated funding does not come through,” the email reads.
As of Monday afternoon, Ohio State decided to honor the contracts for the full year, Anne McGreevy, a senior lecturer attending a department meeting on the matter, said in an email.
The layoffs were aimed at associated faculty, most of whom teach 1000-level classes. The layoffs come amid what the email called a “cash flow crisis.” In 2015, it was reported that the College of Arts and Sciences ran a $4.6 million deficit, which was projected to grow.
In 2016, it was reported that humanities enrollments at OSU had declined 49 percent between 2010 and 2015, even though applications to the university were increasing.
In the email, Warhol says the deficit for the English department, specifically, was $480,000 when she became the interim chair in 2016.
As a result of the potential layoffs, Warhol said she had tried to cut the 1110 general education classes scheduled for Spring Semester 2017 if the department was not allowed to continue to run the deficit, though to no immediate success.
“It turns out I don’t have the authority to do either of those things — not surprising, given that I am an Interim Chair, and probably even a permanent Chair would not get away with defying the deans on such a high-stakes matter,” she said in the email.
Warhol went on to say she is looking at ways to save money in the department to retain as many associated faculty positions as possible for Spring Semester 2017, and is “in continuing discussions with (Arts and Humanities) Dean (Peter) Hahn about increasing our budget allocation for next year and into the future.”
The English Department sent out a tweet saying it stood with its employees.
“OSUEnglish supports our associated faculty. #contingentacademiclabor,” the account @OSUEnglish tweeted.
David Winter, a former lecturer in the English department who was aware of the layoffs, said he was concerned about the effect they would have on students and faculty.
“I believe this is an important issue that will directly affect the quality of the education students receive at Ohio State — not just for English majors but for all students who take the English 1110 (general education requirement),” he said in an email. “Who will teach the 60+ English classes these lecturers would have taught in the spring? Will the teachers for those classes be paid a living wage or receive health insurance and other benefits? However the classes are covered, will quality of instruction decline and class size increase?”
As for the College of Arts and Sciences’ budget costs, Winter said he taught six classes a semester for a total of $30,000.
“Ohio State lecturers are not the folks you’ve heard about living in an ivory tower,” he said. “It’s not lavish — especially when you consider that many lecturers are still paying off student loans, and some are raising children — but it’s a living.”
He went on to say that although the lecturers knew they might not have jobs for Fall Semester 2017, they had time to figure out other options.
“In the past, it has been typical and expected that the department would renew these contracts each year, and hire a few new lecturers, depending on enrollment and funding,” he said. “(Ten days) ago the lecturers learned they probably wouldn’t have jobs next fall — definitely bad news, but at least it would have given them time to find new teaching positions.”
The last day of classes for Fall Semester 2016 is Dec. 7.
In an email to The Lantern, Warhol called the decision to honor the full length of the contracts a “happy ending.”
OSU spokesman Ben Johnson said in an emailed statement that the university would work with the English department to address the budget shortfall.
“The College of Arts and Sciences will be working with the Department of English to address these budget challenges,” Johnson said. “We acknowledge the concerns expressed regarding the associated faculty in the Department of English and regret any confusion. Ohio State will honor the appointment lengths of their respective offer letters; no mid-year faculty changes will be made.”
Update, 7:19 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson and Robyn Warhol, the Department of English interim chair.
Clarification, 10/25: This story was updated to clarify references to the English department layoffs could have affected. Additionally, David Winter misspoke in his original email. Associated faculty were notified ten days ago, he clarified, not ten years ago, that their contracts could not be guaranteed to be renewed for the 2017-2018 school year.