Faculty Non-Renewals, Staff Layoffs, and Threats to Philosophy at Ohio University


Ohio University (Athens, Ohio) has told at least 140 of its staff they will be laid off and has begun issuing non-renewal notices to both non-tenure and tenure-track faculty in an attempt to “grapple with a budget crisis that started even before the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

One reader aware of the situation there wrote in on Friday:

What is particularly disturbing is that the administration had informed staff in late March (when moving all instruction online), that despite the budget crisis, they would not lay off anyone this year in light of the pandemic, and tenure track faculty would get one year added to their tenure clocks. As soon as the term ended, and all the staff had been working hard to move everything online and continue the students’ education, the administration reversed their decision, and today (May 1st, of all days!) they are starting to make these decisions official. Staff (both instructional and tenure track) are receiving non renewal letters, department chairs are being asked to rank their faculty so that the administration can make cuts (so far, chairs are refusing to comply). As far as I am aware, the university administration is taking a very low pay reduction, especially compared to what other institutions (and private corporations) are doing. All the sports programs are still running and funded. Some positions within the administration and sports programs are paid more than the governor of Ohio.

Scott Carson, associate professor of philosophy at Ohio University, writes:

The present pandemic has had severe and negative effects on many, and I don’t intend to suggest that things are any worse here than anywhere else—indeed in some ways Athens County has been very lucky: only four confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far.

However, the economic impact of the pandemic on what is a very rural part of the country, already suffering from that other pandemic, the opioid crisis, cannot be overstated. Ohio University, the only large-scale employer in several southeastern Ohio counties, is facing staggering financial deficits. In such circumstances it is not unusual to see institutions undertake drastic measures to preserve their own existence; sometimes these measures come at the expense of those who constitute the institution itself.

When I was hired by Ohio University in 1996, there were 18 full time faculty in the Department of Philosophy. We are down to eight, but we are now looking at losing three more due to the economic situation here. To lose three of my colleagues all at once is a very difficult blow to me personally, but it is an even bigger blow to them and their families, obviously, and to our Department. Some of these colleagues have taught by my side for over 15 years now, and their teaching made our academic mission possible. Most other non-tenure track faculty will probably not be renewed; 160 classified staff have already been laid off; and the faculty who remain will, in all likelihood, be furloughed.

Philosophy is by no means the only department at Ohio University being gutted by this crisis, but along with other disciplines in the Humanities it stands to suffer the most in terms of its ability to deliver a high quality education to those students who still choose to come here.

It has always been my view, and for a long time it was the view of anyone working in higher education, that the humanities are an essential component in any institution that seeks to bring forth well-rounded, intelligent, humane, and civilized people. It seems to me that such people are in rather short supply sometimes, and perhaps now more than ever it seems foolhardy to make the production of such people even more difficult than it was before.

A major research institution like Ohio University ought to be ashamed of itself for allowing the humanities—not just philosophy, but the humanities in general—to sink into oblivion while insisting on maintaining an athletics program that loses $15-20 million every year; it ought to be ashamed of itself for instituting a hiring freeze on faculty for humanities programs while continuing to hire literally dozens of new administrators every year; it ought to be ashamed of itself for issuing non-renewal notices to people who have given the better part of their professional lives to an institution that paid them less than other faculty and only recently even gave them any benefits package; it ought to be ashamed of itself for paying some of its coaches and administrators more than the governor of Ohio makes in a year; and it ought to be ashamed of itself for continuing to boast of an education focused on “critical thinking” as it proceeds to virtually eliminate the very disciplines that make “critical thinking” possible.

I apologize for the length of this rant, but if you feel as strongly as I do about the role of the humanities in general, and of philosophy in particular, in higher education today, I would urge you to write to our president, Duane Nellis, or to the Board of Trustees of Ohio University, to tell them your thoughts on the importance of an education grounded in the disciplines that for centuries have been at the very core of a college education. Adding your voice to the outcry here—even if you are a humanities professor yourself or an administrator at an institution that values such things—may not make any difference, but a voice heard and ignored is better than a silence taken as acceptance or, worse, approval.

Yesterday on Twitter, @OU_SaveOurProfs announced that Ohio University philosophy faculty member Jeremy Morris was notified by the university that his contract will not be renewed.

A petition objecting to the nonrenewal of instructional faculty contracts at Ohio University is accepting signatures here.

UPDATE: The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter at Ohio University this morning released a statement calling for the university to reverse its firings of faculty and staff. From the statement:

The OU-AAUP Executive Committee calls for Ohio University to reverse the apparent terminations of two instructional and one tenure-line faculty and 140 unionized custodial staff at Ohio University, which occurred this past week. We also call for a halt to any further terminations, until a process of true shared governance and transparency can be established and implemented. These non-renewal decisions are occurring in the absence of any clear and detailed communication about OU’s budget situation and its strategy for dealing with it. Faculty have been excluded from the deliberations among top administrators in blatant disregard for shared governance (a process of collaborative faculty-administration decision-making). Faculty to date have only been allowed to participate in “curricular continuity and safety,” according to Faculty Senate president Robin Muhammad’s recent Faculty Senate communication. Further, the ostensible decision not to renew the three faculty members in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and in African American Studies will irremediably weaken or destroy programs that directly support diversity and inclusion, one of Ohio University’s primary institutional commitments.


guest
53 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Nick
Nick
11 months ago

It’s common for people in the humanities to complain about how underfunded humanities departments are relative to sports programs. The suggestion seems to be that universities should cut significantly, or eliminate altogether, their sports programs and devote the funds to the humanities (or some other academic pursuits). For instance, Scott Carson complains above that the OU athletics program loses $15-20 million per year and that the OU department continues to dwindle.

But I’m wondering (genuinely wondering, since I don’t know the economics here, but have my own hypothesis about this): Wouldn’t it be even MORE devastating to the university (and therefore to humanities programs) to eliminate sports programs? Wouldn’t a huge chunk of students avoid OU (and other universities electing to eliminate sports) in favor of schools with sports teams? And if so, wouldn’t this cause OU enrollments, and therefore funds, to plummet which would ravage OU humanities programs even further?

In other words, isn’t the provision of sports programs entirely rational from the perspective of administrators trying to keep enrollments up and money flowing in? And doesn’t that make it rational to keep sports EVEN FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF HUMANITIES PROFESSORS who would like for many students to enroll in their university and take their classes?

My guess (and it’s a genuine guess) is that, while administrators may be stupid, they’re not THAT stupid. They’re not dumping $15-20 million per year for absolutely no good reason.Report

G
G
Reply to  Nick
11 months ago

“The suggestion seems to be that universities should cut significantly, or eliminate altogether, their sports programs and devote the funds to the humanities (or some other academic pursuits).”
I did not see this suggestion anywhere. This suggestion is problematic given the athletic facilities, student athletes, sports staff members, etc. But again, I see nobody ever suggests this at this point. Many or most think that it is a problem when a coach earns as much as ten junior faculty members in humanities, but very few suggests that the solution is to fire the coach.
Also, it is an empirical question, but do you really think students care that much about college sport teams, so that “a huge chunk of students avoid OU (and other universities electing to eliminate sports) in favor of schools with sports teams”? I just disagree. This is especially not the case for OU, whose sports teams are not among the best at all. (This is not Ohio State.)
Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  G
11 months ago

Not having sports teams is, in the eyes of many high school kids (and their parents), a mark of irrelevance as a university. (This might surprise humanities professors, but it shouldn’t: people really like sports. You and your friends may not. But that’s because you’re humanities people.) Some students will still attend a university widely regarded as irrelevant. But not excellent, or even pretty good, students who have a choice about where to go. If you don’t have sports teams, and you’re not already excellent as a university (Harvard, Georgetown, and the like are excluded here), my guess is you’re going to get low, and lower-quality, enrollments. And that’s not good for humanities programs. You don’t have to think that students come MERELY to watch sports teams, or even excellent sports teams, to think that not having sports will be bad for enrollments, revenue, and therefore humanities programs.

But suppose OU and similar schools don’t eliminate sports, they just, as you suggest, pay their football coaches (and other big money program coaches) something around what they pay a humanities professor. Other universities hold their coach’s pay constant. What will happen to the OU football team? They will be an absolute joke, year after year. Having joke sports teams is little better than having none. Kids don’t want to attend a joke university. So, again, I suspect that paying coaches a salary near current levels so their programs aren’t complete jokes year after year is rational even from the perspective of humanities professors who just want good humanities programs.Report

G
G
Reply to  Nick
11 months ago

Thank you for your response, Nick. But you said, “they just, as you suggest, pay their football coaches (and other big money program coaches) something around what they pay a humanities professor.”–May I ask where did I suggest this? I re-read my post three times but could not find this suggestion. I assume that we are talking about potential solutions to a problem rather than arguing against some imaginary positions.
I also think that we are not talking about a normative question about what should be done. We are talking about strategies–strategies about how to balance academics and sports. Some coaches at other universities took pay cuts. At my university, we had to eliminate some sport teams several years ago, only keeping some “core teams” such as football, basketball, etc.Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  G
11 months ago

Apologies. You did not suggest that. Replace “as you suggest” with, “as many in the humanities suggest,” or to be maximally careful, “as many in the humanities seem to suggest when they complain about coaches’ salaries relative to humanities professors’ salaries.”Report

Lux
Lux
Reply to  Nick
11 months ago

You either didn’t read the original post or deliberately decided to misrepresent the argument so you could opine about athletics. No one said what you keep maintaining they did.

“What will happen to the OU football team? They will be an absolute joke, year after year.”

They already are.

“people really like sports. You and your friends may not. But that’s because you’re humanities people.”

Citation needed.

So we’ve got both a strawman fallacy and a hasty generalization fallacy here. As someone else pointed out, it’s deeply fitting that you argue against the humanities while evincing the very critical thinking deficits that humanities professors (especially philosophy professors) try to address. Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Lux
11 months ago

– I was picking up on this part of the original post: “A major research institution like Ohio University ought to be ashamed of itself for allowing the humanities—not just philosophy, but the humanities in general—to sink into oblivion while insisting on maintaining an athletics program that loses $15-20 million every year.” That’s in the original post, and that’s what I responded to entirely appropriately. It’s fine if you think I’m wrong. But it’s false that I “deliberately decided to misrepresent the argument so [I] could opine about athletics”, as you claim.

– Ohio Football has had a winning record 9 out of the last 10 seasons. The one season they didn’t (2014), they went 6-6. So OU football isn’t a joke year after year, are they? Far from it. Here’s a citation for you: https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/schools/ohio/index.html

– Do you really need a citation for the claim that people in America love sports, especially football?

– I’m glad you know the names of some informal fallacies.Report

Lux
Lux
Reply to  Nick
11 months ago

“Do you really need a citation for the claim that people in America love sports, especially football?”

That wasn’t the hasty generalization I was referring to.

“I’m glad you know the names of some informal fallacies.”

You seem to still be struggling, though.

“That’s in the original post, and that’s what I responded to entirely appropriately.”

While also spraining something with that enormous reach.

“Ohio Football has had a winning record 9 out of the last 10 seasons.”

If their record seems impressive to you, I’m sorry.

In the future, try responding to what people actually write–instead of what you wish they had written. Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Nick
11 months ago

I think there’s a definite question about how the coronavirus will affect the future of college sports. It seems unlikely that there can be football games played before live audiences this fall. I don’t know if this opens up a possibility of furloughing the coaches for a year, but it certainly means the usual calculations don’t apply.Report

Marcus
Marcus
Reply to  Nick
11 months ago

What the original passage said: “A major research institution like Ohio University ought to be ashamed of itself for allowing the humanities—not just philosophy, but the humanities in general—to sink into oblivion while insisting on maintaining an athletics program that loses $15-20 million every year. … it ought to be ashamed of itself for paying some of its coaches and administrators more than the governor of Ohio makes in a year.”

What you took from the passage: “It’s common for people in the humanities to complain about how underfunded humanities departments are relative to sports programs. The suggestion seems to be that universities should cut significantly, or eliminate altogether, their sports programs and devote the funds to the humanities (or some other academic pursuits).”

At no point did anyone suggest eliminating the sports program. You either did not comprehend the passage to which you responded, or you decided to be engage in straw-manning. In either case, you could have benefited from a more rigorous education in the humanities to improve skills of reading comprehension and logic. If nothing else, your unfortunately response demonstrates what happens when society and universities neglect the humanities.Report

Greg L
Reply to  Nick
11 months ago

As an OU MA grad in Philosophy, I stand in solidarity with the faculty. For someone who didn’t know if graduate school was a fit, or had the confidence to know they could succeed, OU’s fully funded MA program was a fruitful intellectual starting point.

I find it odd that the comments went to sports specifically, but to clarify…the economics of college sports is a heavily researched topic. Outside of a small number of high profile sports institutions, Uni’s generally lose money on their sports programs. Here’s some relatively quick-to-digest info from easily accessible sources:

“The NCAA reported in 2016 that the average Division I school lost $12.6m annually on athletics if they don’t have a football team, and $14.4m if they do. In Division II, the annual loss per school as of 2014 was $5.1m if they had a football team and $4.1m if they did not. For Division III, football schools lost $3.1m on athletics while those without football experienced a $1.6m loss.” – The Guardian “In college sports, non-athletes suffer just as much as the stars on the field” [https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/oct/16/college-sports-revenue-loss-making-programs-academics]

OU significant subsidizes their sports programs, though the data that was easy to find, it is a bit older [I’m skipping around in the article in the quotes]:

“Ohio University spent $27.3 million on intercollegiate sports in 2013-14, the school’s report to the NCAA showed….Two out of every three dollars spent on Ohio University sports comes from student fees or other help from the university, placing the OU athletic program near the middle of Ohio MAC schools for how much it is subsidized…Most of the subsidy at OU comes from student fees — $16 million according to the school’s most recent NCAA report for 2013-14. Plus $2.4 million of institution support was listed for facilities and administration.

The attention the program draws helps justify the investment, Athletic Director Jim Schaus said.

“Athletics is clearly a marketing arm for our school and other institutions in our conference,” Schaus said. “When we went to the Sweet 16 [in basketball in 2012], everywhere I traveled people were wearing the logo.””

[Cleveland.com data central: https://www.cleveland.com/datacentral/2015/07/ohio_universitys_athletic_prog.html%5D

While I do not have data on how much fo a draw an athletic program is, enhancing “value for money” would be attractive to many students. Some of the subsidy could even be redirected to advertising.

Furthermore, I do know colleges and universities that have limited athletics or only-club sports programs; I do not know any Universities that operate without professors.

Report

Kate Leeman
Kate Leeman
Reply to  Nick
11 months ago

Ohio University is generally not known for its sports teams. I’d be surprised if they were a deciding factor for any students (beyond those receiving sports scholarships. This is particularly true because we are only 90 minutes from the sports juggernaut of Ohio State.Report

Alastair Norcross
11 months ago

It would be nice to have something other than guesses to go on in this debate. My guesses don’t line up with yours at all. Even though I am in the Humanities (or Social Sciences, depending on which university you are in), I love sports (lots of them, at least). Does anyone know of any actual research on the topic of whether colleges that ditch big-time sports programs attract fewer students?Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
11 months ago

I was wondering about this a few days ago after a twitter debate. It’s really difficult to measure sport success impact on the college. One of the few studies I found seems to find very minor differences, and that the money invested is not worth it unless it were recouped in
sports generated revenues (but I skimmed through the paper so I don’t know how reliable this is).
https://www.nber.org/papers/w18196

But it’s also worth noting that you don’t need to think that an administrator is stupid to think that their investment in athletics is unrelated to any benefit that the university might get from it. Administrators like Nellis are likely more interested in their brand, their future compensation, and political and career ambitions (which often will go well with projecting an image of “tough-minded” and “making difficult decisions”) than with the well-being of the university. Their decisions might even be intelligent from that point of view. Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
11 months ago

Of course there may be little or no impact from good or bad performance in a single season, even if there’s much higher impact from the existence or non-existence of a team. Unfortunately there are very few case studies of universities that ended or created football teams. (University of Chicago is the only one I can think of, and it was decades ago.)Report

M
M
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
11 months ago

The University of Chicago still has football, but it competes in Division 3 (https://athletics.uchicago.edu/sports/fball/index )… this is interesting in itself. But U of C is an outlier here, because (i) it was founded by ultra-wealthy donors, and (ii) the university’s overall reputation and growth benefited early on from helping build big-time football (including the Big 10) into what it became.

A data point: I teach at a smaller liberal arts college (~ 3000 undergrads) in a major metro area, and we have no football, just about 8 sports (including M and W basketball) in Div 2… and we struggle annually to recruit an adequate incoming freshman class; and 2/3 of our students are women. I’m told that if we had more sports, including football (which I’m not saying we should), it’d be easier to recruit prospective students.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
11 months ago

There are actually *many* colleges and universities that have dumped their football programs. Football is particularly expensive in general, although I guess Kenny’s Texas A&M makes a huge amount of money from theirs! Here are a few:

Boston University
Northeastern
Providence College
Pepperdine
Marquette
Univ. of Vermont
UC Santa Barbara
American
George Washington

I’m pretty sure the first three on my list didn’t suffer when they eliminated football, but the northeastern part of the US is unlike the midwest in relevant respects so maybe Ohio U would be different. (There are a lot of others, but it could be significant that I could only think of one — Marquette — in the midwest, off the top of my head.)
Report

UCSB Alum
UCSB Alum
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
11 months ago

History of UCSB Football:

https://www.independent.com/2015/04/23/ucsbs-forgotten-football-history/

I love college football, but didn’t care at as an undergrad at UCSB. We had other UC schools to root for and sunshine. Went to grad school with a great football program and love it. Now I work at a school where I think we should move all sports from D1 to D3.

It’s complicated business, but I would say that people like winning football and basketball teams and they hate over paid losing teams that also lose money. The name of the sports game is that you must win at those two sports. Nothing else matters.Report

Chris
Chris
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
11 months ago

Wichita State also eliminated their football program – in 1986, I think. Their basketball has been very successful (in part, Koch sponsored).Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
11 months ago

Yes, thank you, Alastair. Rather than trading guesses about the empirical facts, I really just wanted to point out that, when humanities people pontificate about sports and coach salaries, they do so from a place of complete ignorance about what would actually happen if universities followed their recommendations by paying coaches significantly less, or slashing sports programs, or whatever. By advocating for the reduction or elimination of sports programs, they may well be advocating for the destruction of their own departments. Then again, maybe not. But they have absolutely no idea.Report

Michael Monaco
Michael Monaco
Reply to  Nick
11 months ago

B. David Ridpath ( of OU) has researched college athletics extensively and found among other things that the vast majority of students don’t give a whit about college sports. Those that do might gravitate towards the only Ohio public university that sees a net profit from their sports programs and merchandising, OSU.
I heard Prof Ridpath speak 3 years ago so I can’t cite specific numbers. He’s not opposed to college athletics but concluded that NCAA participation does not benefit most schoolsReport

Philosopher of Sport
Philosopher of Sport
11 months ago

I don’t have any “hard” evidence, but anecdotally: I teach philosophy of sport to classes that are usually about 50% student athletes at a university where sports matter (though not as much as they do at, e.g., Ohio State), and are D1. My experience with my students in that course–almost none of whom are philosophy majors, and most of whom are not humanities majors–tells against Nick’s claims above. My student athletes are particularly thoughtful about the place of athletics programs in colleges. They have (mostly) thought about these issues a lot, and, despite in many cases benefiting from athletics scholarships, have nuanced and careful views about these things. And my experience is that going into the course, their views tend to lean towards “college athletics is really problematic and coaches are paid way too much”. (Not all of them! And not always super strongly!)
I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by acting as though high school students or first year college students aren’t capable of critical and careful thought about the financial structure of universities, even when they are benefiting from certain policies that might be problematic.

(FWIW: many of my students think that competitive college athletics should be banned altogether, and that it would be better if we had semi-professional or professional external leagues for college-aged students, combined with age minimums in pro sports so that college-aged students weren’t forced to choose between going to college and going pro–this, or some variation of it, is almost always the solution that my students come up with in discussion of this issue…)Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
11 months ago

There’s (obviously) been a lot of research done on economics and college sports. It’s mostly pretty equivocal because the counterfactuals (i.e., “what’d happen if we didn’t have college sports?”) are so speculative. But one thing’s for sure:

These “my university runs a deficit of $x because of college sports” are just inaccurate. Specifically, the way those calculations run is to take the (direct) revenues from sports, then subtract the expenses. But what they don’t take into account are things like: (1) how many students *enroll* who otherwise wouldn’t have; (2) what do *state* appropriations look like, given sports (e.g., would states have committed less money, had those programs not existed); and (3) what do *donations* to schools look like, in virtue of their sports programs (e.g., from alumni). Call those three the main “indirect” drivers.

So the right way to do this is to incorporate all those revenues (from (1)-(3) above) into the financial picture. Again, that’s very hard to do. And studies that have been run have been hesitant to draw very robust conclusions. But I *really* think we need to “grow up” as a community and stop pretending like football coaches are the reason that the humanities are in trouble. It just isn’t true, it’s bad economics, and it’s uncritical sophistry.

References: John Vrooman (Vanderbilt) is one of the leading sports economists and has written about this extensively. Report

JL
JL
Reply to  Jon Light
11 months ago

Actually, more specifically, try Getz and Siegfried “What Does Intercollegiate Athletics Do to or for Colleges and Universities” in Kahane and Shmanske (eds.), *Oxford Handbook of Sports Economics*, vol. 1 (Oxford, 2010). Vrooman makes similar points, but the stuff I summarize above is directly from the Getz and Siegfried article. Report

benjamin s yost
benjamin s yost
Reply to  Jon Light
11 months ago

John Light I agree with you that to get an accurate picture, we would need to know about what you call indirect drivers. But here’s the thing. We *know* that sports cost millions of dollars at places like Ohio U, and those dollars could be spent on professors. We *don’t know* that spending this money is worth it, economically. You admit as much yourself. But that seems put the burden on those who advocate retaining sports, no? If those who advocate retaining sports on (indirect) economic grounds have no evidence for their position, it is hardly “bad economics” or “sophistry” to reject their position . The only way to avoid the conclusion that the pro-sports side lacks sufficient justification, it seems to me, is to go with the “trust administrators” line, and that line is quite frankly b.s. (I haven’t read anything of what you’ve cited, but nor have I ever read a second hand account of the literature that gives reason to think that sports are worth it at places like Ohio U.)
Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  benjamin s yost
11 months ago

Why is the “trust the administrators” line b.s.? They’re the ones looking at the books. They have all the relevant information. And they’re the ones who look silly if they’re dumping $15-20 million per year into nothing of value. You don’t even have to trust their goodwill or their passion for the mission of the university–just their self-interest and ambition. They want to look good so they can move on to the next great job. If cutting sports teams would recover millions, why don’t they do it?

I don’t think this SHOWS that it’s worth it to have sports teams. Just that it’s pretty good evidence that they’re not an obvious money dump. So if they employ tons of people in the area (a concern in the OP) and provide great publicity for the university, why not keep them until the evidence comes in that they’re NOT worth it, all-things-considered? Why is CUTTING them the default when the evidence is unclear rather than KEEPING them?Report

benjamin s yost
benjamin s yost
Reply to  Nick
11 months ago

From a Forbes article “Put another way, administrative spending comprised just 26% of total educational spending by American colleges in 1980-1981, while instructional spending comprised 41%. Three decades later, the two categories were almost even: administrative spending made up 24% of schools’ total expenditures, while instructional spending made up 29%.”

Administrators have overseen this rise in administration. Are you willing to say that this administrative bloat must be in the best interests of the university, economically speaking, because the administrators in charge of this bloat “are the ones looking at the books” and “have all the relevant information”?

Administrators have also overseen deep cuts to Humanities programs that generate *far more* teaching revenue than STEM fields. Do you think this this must be in the best economic interest of the university, because administrators in charge of the cuts are the ones looking at the books?

So, no, I don’t trust administrators or their ambition. There are lots of things that make them look good in the eyes of talk show hosts, state legislators, friends at the club, etc., that aren’t in the best interests of their university. Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  benjamin s yost
11 months ago

As far as I can tell, this just doesn’t make contact with Nick’s point. He’s arguing that the administrators’ *self*-interestedness gives us some reason to trust that they’re not keeping around obvious (to them) financial holes in the form of athletics programs. That has nothing to do with what is in the “interest” of the university (I’m not sure that notion is coherent, but okay).Report

benjamin s yost
benjamin s yost
Reply to  sahpa
11 months ago

Nick said that administrators wouldn’t keep around money-losing athletics departments because it would not be in their self-interest *to spend money for no good reason*. To quote him, “it would not look good.” I pointed to two clearly financially detrimental practices (off the top of my head) that many administrators have endorsed, without any professional penalty that I am aware of. (Sure, faculty have criticized these moves, but that’s not the peer group presidents are interested in courting.) How is this not engaging with (and to my mind refuting) his claim?

Report

JL
JL
Reply to  benjamin s yost
11 months ago

Because, in this particular case, there is a specific argument (regarding indirect revenues) and a specific literature on that exact topic. Then you say you haven’t read it, and make some tangential claim about administrators’ salaries.

Note also that you say: “We *know* that sports cost millions of dollars at places like Ohio U…” Which, of course, is exactly the point that the above argument is meant to challenge (i.e., the extent to which those are offset by revenues that you’re not accounting for). You can’t just assert the opposite, without evidence and without engaging the principal point of the dialectic.Report

benjamin s yost
benjamin s yost
Reply to  benjamin s yost
11 months ago

JL, I’m relying on *your* summary of the literature, which says that the results are equivocal, i.e., we don’t know whether college sports generates a net revenue. Maybe there is some literature establishing that it does generate net revenue but neither you nor anyone else in this thread has suggested that it exists. Nor have I found any such thing in my sporadic attempts across the years to locate it.

Look, we *know* that sports costs, in the sense of “requires expenditures,” millions of dollars (that’s what I meant by cost in my earlier comment, not some net sense of cost). We know this by looking at college’s budgets. That’s pretty solid evidence. We *don’t know* that these costs are recouped (or whether they lead to additional profits). The literature on this is, as you yourself say, equivocal. So far, everything should be utterly uncontroversial. I’m not begging any questions or asserting anything without evidence.

My (slightly more controversial) point is just that if you have to cut something, cutting something you *do* know to be good for the balance sheet of the college (humanities departments, which typically generate far more than their share of teaching revenue) is a worse option than cutting something you *aren’t sure* is good for the balance sheet of the college. I don’t see any way of rejecting this conclusion other than by providing evidence (which no one has done) that sports are a net financial benefit.

Nick’s rather fanciful attempt at rejecting my conclusion was to say that college sports *must* be of net financial benefit b/c otherwise administrators would disband them. My “tangential claim” about administrative bloat was just one of many examples one could use to show this bit of psychology to be false.

(It looks like Nick might think I am advocating for cutting sports just b/c there is no evidence that they are a net benefit. I’m not, though this might not have been clear. My point is about what administrators should cut in times of exigency.)
Report

benjamin s yost
benjamin s yost
Reply to  benjamin s yost
11 months ago

To be fair to Nick, he did not use his claim about administrative self interest to show that college sports *must* be profitable. He took it to show that there is good reason to think they are profitable. He’s still wrong, for the reasons mentioned above, but I don’t want to be uncharitable. Report

Different Nick
Different Nick
Reply to  benjamin s yost
11 months ago

“We *know* that sports cost millions of dollars at places like Ohio U, and those dollars could be spent on professors.” No, we don’t know that second thing, because we don’t know whether we would have those dollars if the sports programs didn’t exist; there’s lots of evidence we would not. That was the point being made. You seem to argue that because we don’t know we wouldn’t have those dollars, we know we could spend them on professors, and that is the sophistry being complained about. Report

Christopher Gauker
Christopher Gauker
11 months ago

I am sure you all know this, but I would like to remind you that in continental Europe, there are no intercollegiate sports.Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Christopher Gauker
11 months ago

And, as you know, in America there are intercollegiate sports. So European and American universities face different circumstances, which explains why they (ought to) behave differently. If an American university with sports teams ever relocates itself to Europe, the case for eliminating those sports teams may be much clearer. Until then…Report

Christopher Gauker
Christopher Gauker
Reply to  Nick
11 months ago

What are the relevant differences? I can imagine some possible answers, but I do not know which differences you think are relevant. Universities in Europe do not compete with each other so much. Private universities do not play the same role. There are many features of the American system that the European system should take on. But the example pretty clearly shows that university education could function at a high level without intercollegiate sports.Report

JL
JL
Reply to  Christopher Gauker
11 months ago

Note also that a lot of Europeans (and athletes from other countries) come to the US precisely because we have intercollegiate sports. Setting aside things like football, a lot of collegiate sports rely heavily on international student athletes. I’m not saying that’s good or bad–and, to your point, it has nothing to do with whether we could have high-quality education without them–but it does make things a bit more complicated.

It also changes the economics because, e.g., those foreign athletes are now spending money in our local communities, flying their families out, and so on. So I’d think, all else equal, this fact goes a bit toward vindicating some of the overall concerns. (Though only a small bit, it’s more of a clarificatory comment!)Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Christopher Gauker
11 months ago

One huge difference is that private donations to universities are huge in the US compared to Europe. Maintaining a long-term loyal alumni community, some fraction of which give large amounts of money to their alma mater, is a core part of the business model of US HE in a way that has very little analog in Europe.Report

Nick
Nick
11 months ago

I just meant that, given that there are intercollegiate sports in America, that shapes the way Ohio University (and every American university individually) ought to think about whether to keep their sports programs. They have to compete with other American universities with sports programs. And it may be that eliminating their sports makes them less competitive for (good) students. So the fact that *in Europe* no one has intercollegiate sports doesn’t help Ohio figure out what to do at all. They’re not in Europe.

If all you meant, by pointing to European universities, was to say that it’s possible for a bunch of universities to exist without sports, then that’s 100% true. And maybe American universities, as a whole, would be better off if no one had intercollegiate sports. But given that there are intercollegiate sports, I don’t think Ohio should be ashamed of itself for having them.Report

Interloper
Interloper
11 months ago

The huge salaries and bonuses that go to certain college sports figures in the US — the $ figures that get folks up in arms — go primarily to members of the football staff: not just the head coach, but the offensive and defensive coordinators, recruiting coordinator, line coaches, other position coaches, etc. Similar but to a much lesser extent for men’s basketball. There are a few other examples (women’s BB at a place like UConn) but they are few and far between. Staff salaries in sports like tennis, soccer, golf, rowing, wrestling, gymnastics, baseball, softball, volleyball, track, … they are a different story.

This is directly related to revenues. Primarily due to TV rights deals, but also from merchandise sales, earmarked alumni donations, gate receipts, concessions, etc., football and men’s basketball usually more than pay for themselves — they also pay for the other varsity and intramural sports programs. In some cases there is additional net income to the school from football and men’s basketball that is used to meet non-sports costs. Not every program every year, but largely.

So at least in those sorts of cases, dumping the two sports that have the notoriously highly paid coaches can mean having to also give up the things that are paid for out of the net revenues that those two sports generate. This is just to say: it’s complicated.Report

M
M
Reply to  Interloper
11 months ago

Which part of the coach’s 600k salary goes to other people?

https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/executive-compensation#id=15601_204857_2018_public

Report

JL
JL
Reply to  M
11 months ago

The provision in his contract where he stipulates that his assistants have to be paid $x, which would often be stipulated in terms of intra-conference rivals. (Yes, those are standard.)

Also, I can’t tell if you’re kidding, but what about the parking attendants? Concession workers? Field crews? Obviously the football coach is contributing economically to myriad other people’s careers and livelihoods, beyond his own. Not out of his $600k per se, but because that’s more like the entrance cost to providing for a broad set of stakeholders.Report

M
M
Reply to  JL
11 months ago

$x out of his own salary?

Report

O
O
Reply to  JL
11 months ago

JL – I don’t think anyone is kidding here. As the OP says, faculty and staff, who make less than a tenth of 600k, are being fired, while no cuts of any sort are announced regarding the highest earning people. Are you saying that paying 600k to a coach is necessary (“entrance cost” as you say) for giving jobs to people in the region? If so, don’t you think that this is a bad investment? Many small businesses give jobs to many people with much less cost. In addition, have you read above that Ohio University is laying off unionized custodial staff anyway?Report

Paul L. Franco
11 months ago

It turns out the economics of college athletics are complicated! I propose we set that discussion aside and return to the main takeaway of the post: Colleges are facing huge budget crunches. This is going to make many everyone at our universities–grad students, contingent and tenure-track faculty, and non-academic staff and workers–more vulnerable to losing their jobs. That vulnerability is not evenly distributed. Yet, all these people, and in some cases *especially* the most vulnerable, are key to helping colleges return to some new normal in the fall. Working towards this goal is quite difficult when people can’t even be assured that they’ll have jobs next year or further in the future. So: What can colleges and individuals do to support non-academic staff, contingent faculty, grad students, &, in some cases, tenure-track faculty in the face of this crisis?Report

Alan White
Alan White
11 months ago

FWIW, another data point on the impact of C19 on higher ed: a Catholic 4-year (with some grad programs; I served on one committee for a former student) in my community is shutting down after a history spanning almost 150 years:

https://www.htrnews.com/story/news/2020/05/04/manitowoc-holy-family-college-closing-permanently-after-summer-session/3079144001/Report

Eric Steinhart
11 months ago

Literally all you have to do is google “college sports alumni donations” if you want to learn about the impact athletics programs have.Report

Melissa
Melissa
11 months ago

Carson is complaining about layoffs of a very small portion of the faculty and staff. Meanwhile small businesses are going bankrupt. Men and women in our food supply chain are dying, yes dying from COVID-19 with many more just losing their jobs. How terrible for academics. They are the MOST IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN THE WORLD. Stop the “massacre” as another humanities professor wrote. Report

Former OU employee
Former OU employee
Reply to  Melissa
11 months ago

Hi Melissa,

Ohio University is the biggest employer in the region, and the source of livelihood of many people in the area, a lot of which are not professors. 140 custodial university staff have been laid off (https://www.athensnews.com/news/campus/ou-lays-off-140-union-employees-more-cuts-to-come/article_17de0ee8-8bf0-11ea-96d3-ef9297606342.html): these are also people that are working in the food supply chain, making sure students still have access to basic services if they cannot go home. Furthermore, the vast majority of the people that are losing their jobs (and last time I checked, professors are people, too) are deeply embedded in the local economy. These are people that go to local restaurants, shops, and breweries. Dr Theresa Moran, who set up the food studies program (which is being cancelled) played a huge role in connecting the university with local farmers, who are going to suffer incredibly from this cancellation. This is not just about academics. This is about administrative bloat and mismanagement that is now going to severely damage the local economy. Report

John
John
Reply to  Former OU employee
11 months ago

Hi Former OU Employee,

If you were recently let go from your position at OU, because of the pandemic or otherwise, I’m really sorry and I hope you’re okay. Many people do not know how traumatic losing a job is, and how punishing unemployment is. I really mean it, because I’ve been there–and will be again. It is hard.

I will speculate that perhaps Melissa is not overlooking the hardships that non-academic workers at OU are facing. But, instead, she is focusing on the fact that many tenured and tenure-track academics often say very (very) little about, not only labour injustice, but also labour precarity, until it directly impacts them. Even worse, a non-trivial number of privileged members of the academic community take advantage–wittingly and unwittingly–of structural power imbalances to advance their own interests. This is of course perpetuated by the fact that, compared to most other jobs, including many professional occupations, tenured academic employment affords more autonomy and hence less direct accountability.

Of course, counterexamples will be found. There are tenured/tenure-track professors who say a lot about labour injustice and precarity. But, as we all know, higher education depends on an underclass of low-paid, low/no-benefit workers. And in R1/2 institutions these precarious workers partly subsidize the remarkable privileges that tenured faculty enjoy, like lighter teaching loads, paid research time, and a remarkable degree of employment security. So even if a tenured professor inveighs against labour injustice, the class of workers s/he is a part of structurally benefits from it.

Many of us are left with a bad taste, then, when even in difficult economic times that eliminate vast swaths of jobs, tenured faculty who are fired seem particularly vociferous, as if they should be immune to the vagaries of the economy–those very vagaries, again, that the academic underclass is forced to weather semester-in, semester-out, with typically nary a peep from the gilded academic caste whose perks partly depend on this structural disparity.

It’s then finally particularly galling when tenured academics insist that their protections from these economic vagaries are necessary on grounds of academic freedom, as if even a small percentage of them research topics that would incite the an iota of resistance for the hoi polloi and their political representatives. And this is not to say philosophical/humanities/academic research is unimportant. It is just not as important as many tenured faculty believe it is, at least (and especially) when compared to the invisible, low-wage, labour-for-rent immigrant who is at this very moment picking the oranges that decorate the table at the tenured faculty idea-swap to which the sessionals (and grad students) were not invited.

So, yeah, all the above is in educated-speak a way for us in the underclass of saying: ‘Well, looks good on you overlord bastards.’ I try to resist that schadenfreude. Only sometimes do I succeed.

Report

Former OU employee
Former OU employee
Reply to  John
11 months ago

Hi John,

I never had a tenure track job, and neither did most of the people that are being let go at OU (I am not one of them. I was there for a while some time ago. I now work in a country where my contract is protected by a trade union).

I suggest you read the Athens post articles and inform yourself a little
more about the economy of southeastern Appalachia and administrative structure of OU and I hope that you understand why we are all so worried about what is going on at the institution, and why we raise the worry in a blog that is dedicated to the profession.

I would also like to stress that this does not take away from other inequalities that exist both within and outside of academia.Report

John
John
Reply to  Former OU employee
11 months ago

Hi Former OU employee,
I actually did read the link you posted before I commented. But very little of the information found on the page touches on what I believe Melissa is pointing to. That’s why I tried to elaborate on what I understand her point to be. From what I gather, all of us agree that ordinary working people get short shrift time and again. There’s no dispute there. Report