ATHENS, Ohio - Faced with the prospect of massive cuts in programs and teaching staff as well as major hikes in tuition, housing costs and fees, hundreds of students at Ohio University took part in a teach-in Wednesday and a rally and march Friday on the campus in Athens, 60 miles southeast of the state capital in Columbus.
Many had participated in recent demonstrations at the Statehouse against Senate Bill 5, the radical Republican measure to end the 27-year-old right of public employees, including university professors, to bargain collectively for wages and working conditions.
Avery Tucker, a sophomore biology student who took part in the campus protests, reported that faculty members, students, alumni and Southeast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, President Bill Sams addressed the rally Friday beginning at noon. They then marched through the campus and on town streets, beating drums, playing a trombone and drawing in students from dormitories and dining rooms with their numbers growing to over 200.
The marchers chanted: "No ifs, no buts, no education cuts," "OU be the best you can be - It can't mean debt, it's got to be free" and "Whose university? Our university!"
"Many people looked out of windows and cars honked at the group with enthusiasm," Tucker wrote. The march ended in front of Cutler Hall, which houses offices of University President Roderick J. McDavis and other top school administrators.
The administration claims that cuts expected from Republican Gov. John Kasich's soon-to-be announced budget as well as loss of federal stimulus money could mean a $20 million to $27 million shortfall for the next school year. With rising costs in health care and utilities the deficit could reach $32.6 million or more for the campus, with over 20,000 students.
Dr. Norma Pecora, a professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies, told the teach-in the university had already suffered a serious loss of faculty and programs due to the recession and previous austerity measures.
Student costs rose over a $1,000 in the past school year, she said.
"There's nothing left to cut back."
Pecora, a leader of the American Association of University Professors, is spearheading a drive to organize a bargaining unit on the campus. The AAUP represents faculty at 13 of Ohio's 17 public universities, although their bargaining rights would end if SB 5 is enacted.
"Often professors don't see themselves as workers," she said, "but in this period of the corporatization of higher education, faculty handbooks are no protection. A contract is not a gentleman's agreement. It is legally binding."
Together with students Pecora helped organize the five-hour teach-in last week involving 400 to 500, under the auspices of Defend Education Ohio, a statewide network.
Participants heard speakers on the international student movement, the fight against SB 5, alternative state budget proposals that minimize cuts and layoffs, and the special impact of the cuts on minorities, women and liberal arts and sciences.
Dr. Patricia Stokes of the Department of Women and Gender Studies criticized the "shift away from tenure track to teachers without job security, health care or other benefits." Increasingly, the university is relying on "contingent faculty," she said, who earn as little as $15,000.
"They have no protection and are vulnerable to arbitrary discharge," Stokes said. "That puts a real damper on academic freedom."
With tuition rising over $10,000, we have to ask, "Where is all this money going?" she said, charging that technology, administrative salaries and buildings are prioritized over instruction.
Photo: Halie Cousineau