Most of Miami's contingent teachers told contracts won't be renewed, group says

Max Londberg
Cincinnati Enquirer
Upham Hall at Miami University, April 9, 2019.

Certain Miami University faculty members have been told they'll soon be out of a job.

A majority of Miami's contingent or visiting faculty – such as visiting assistant professors, instructors and adjuncts – have been informed their contracts will not be renewed this fall, according to the Miami chapter of the American Association of University Professors, an advocacy group. The university, like others, faces financial uncertainty and a possible dip in enrollment due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The Miami AAUP posted a petition on Monday to its website, stating the likely dozens if not hundreds of faculty members facing job loss will be thrust into vulnerable positions amid a pandemic.

"Removing health insurance tied to employment in the middle of a global pandemic and extraordinary economic hardship is, in our view, a harsh action that could result in tragic outcomes," the petition stated.

More than 840 people signed the document, which urged transparency in budget data,  "faculty participation in finding solutions," providing health benefits and other types of support to affected faculty and emphasizing academics over athletics and special projects.

Carole Johnson, a Miami spokesperson, released the following statement, downplaying the reported staffing cuts:

"There are no plans to reduce our more than 900 continuing faculty members, and our practice of supplementing this impressive group with visiting faculty remains unchanged, and we have already hired approximately 100 full-time visiting faculty members for next year and may hire more as confirmations for incoming first-year students are completed on June 1," the statement read.

She added contingent faculty work on a fixed contract, up to one year, and they work on such contracts for up to five years.

"No contingent faculty member is entitled to expect any future appointment after their initial appointment," Johnson wrote. "All contingent or supplemental faculty receive a letter in February each year reminding them of this because we can never predict what our instructional needs will be in the future."

Johnson did not directly respond to a question concerning how many faculty contracts may not be renewed next school year, so the total impact is unclear and could change as enrollment numbers solidify.

But Miami employed more than 200 full-time contingent faculty in the fall of 2018 at its Oxford campus alone, plus several dozen more at its Hamilton and Middletown campuses. Thus, dozens of faculty members likely face the threat of unexpected loss of work. 

K Mann, a visiting assistant professor who teaches sociology at the Hamilton campus, is one such person. She was informed her contract won't be renewed in the fall.

"This is devastating to me personally and professionally," Mann said. "I stand to lose my income and home at a time when there are currently 22 million unemployed people."

Mann said she was aware of at least three others facing loss of work in the fall.

She added that a recent budget meeting with Miami officials did not satisfy her.

"Instead of compassion, we got ... a bureaucratic indifference," she said.

Cathy Wagner, the president of the Miami AAUP chapter, shared a question-and-answer document created from a budget symposium with The Enquirer. 

MU Provost Jason Osborne wrote that "although we do not expect all visiting faculty will receive appointments for the coming year, approximately 100 visiting appointments have been approved."

Osborne also wrote the Academic Affairs department isn't alone in facing cuts.

Wagner earlier told The Enquirer that compensating for a budget shortfall should be spread equally around the university and should include athletics and administration expenses.

Stacey Lowery Bretz, the chair of the Fiscal Priorities & Budget Planning Committee and an education professor, wrote this week in a memo shared with The Enquirer that shared sacrifice will occur. 

But Wagner said Friday that has yet to be seen.

The AAUP has proposed alternatives to the expected job cuts, such as shared salary cuts across faculty and administration.

"At other schools, such as UC, upper administration are taking salary cuts to share the sacrifice," Wagner said. "I am still hoping that Miami Senate can take the lead in proposing alternative ways of mitigating the budget crisis."

On Saturday, President Gregory Crawford announced he'd take a voluntary 25% salary reduction, and other senior leaders would take a 10% cut, "with the savings directed to support our students."

A March email sent by College of Arts and Sciences Dean Christopher Makaroff indicated job losses were possible.

The email, addressed to department leaders, outlined a number of possibilities to address "significant" financial consequences brought on by the pandemic, including an expected sharp decline in enrollment next fall.

At the time of Makaroff's email, he wrote student enrollment confirmations were down 20%.

He also wrote it wasn't clear if students would be able to return to campus for face to face learning in the fall.