Home Campus Students rally against Ohio U budget crisis at President Nellis’ doorstep

Students rally against Ohio U budget crisis at President Nellis’ doorstep

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Many students and faculty members met on Ohio University’s College Green on Monday afternoon to protest impending faculty cuts amid a university-wide budget crisis.

Protestors gathered around the Soldiers and Sailors Civil War monument, where students, professors and an Ohio U alumnus spoke to the crowd. As demonstrators’ chants died down and the rally drew to a close, the group marched to Cutler Hall — the office of Ohio U President Duane Nellis. There, they demanded he come outside and address their concerns that faculty members could lose their jobs in the near future because of the institution’s financial woes.

The sun shined directly on the monument as the crowd continued to grow. Bernhard Debatin, Honors Tutorial College director of journalism studies, was the first faculty member to speak. According to Debatin, Ohio U has added hundreds of administrators since 2000 when he was hired.

“We have been told over and over again that we can not hire any adjunct because of the budget crisis. We have been told that we have to reduce faculty, that instructors will be fired,” Debatin said.

The president’s office sent an email to faculty and students early Monday morning to address the discussion surrounding the budget crisis and to denounce the claim that Ohio U is in financial peril. 

Nellis, who penned the letter, said that talk of the budget planning process contained “misinformation” and caused “disruption” to students’ educations, according to the letter. 

Sam Debatin, the son of Bernhard Debatin and an Ohio U student, countered Nellis’ claim, saying to the crowd: “You can’t have a conversation about fixing the status quo without this kind of disruption.”

Students Alex Armstrong and Isaac Stern, creators of the “OU Fun Facts” flyers that were scattered across campus in recent days, initiated the rally.

Armstrong mentioned that “OU Fun Facts” printed 2,000 flyers last week, dispersing them in buildings throughout campus, specifically in places like Alden Library. The flyers were removed from the library because of a university policy that restricts unauthorized literature in institutional buildings.

“Now they’re calling us liars. They’re telling us that this is misinformation, and we know that is not true,” Armstrong yelled from the monument.

Howard Welser, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio U, explained that the University of Cincinnati set a record for its highest enrollment in 2018, despite claims from the Ohio U administration of a state-wide decline in undergraduate enrollment in universities. Welser attributed UC’s enrollment growth to its investment in professors and research.

Jacob Chaffin, alumnus of Ohio U and a member of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) at Rutgers University, happened to stumble upon the rally during a trip to Athens, he said.

He encouraged students to interrupt the Ohio U Board of Trustees’ meetings and protest against faculty cuts.

“Who’s university? Your university!,” he chanted at the crowd.

Shortly after the formal rally ended, the crowd moved across College Green to Cutler Hall, where they chanted on the doorsteps of Nellis’ office. Ellie Hamrick, an Ohio U alumna and former Independent candidate for Athens City Council, greeted the crowd as they surrounded the building.

The doors to the building were locked. Murmurs from the crowd claimed the doors were usually unlocked. 

The protestors continued to chant “come out Nellis,” and many individuals stacked their protest signs on the steps of the administrative building. 

“This movement is about students, but it’s (also) about students supporting faculty,” Armstrong told The New Political. “We’re not trying to make this about us.”

As the crowd began to disperse, Eric Burchard, director of government relations at Ohio U, stepped outside to negotiate with the leaders of the protest. 

He asked the leaders of “OU Fun Facts” if they attempted to schedule a meeting with Nellis, to which Armstrong replied that they had not.

“I think the best thing to do is to contact his office and try to schedule something,” Burchard said to Armstrong.

Moments later, Ohio University Police Department Chief Andrew Powers asked protestors to leave the steps of the office building and then shut the doors to Cutler Hall.

Protestors dispersed shortly after the doors were locked for the final time. Armstrong and other leaders of the protest plan on meeting with Nellis in the coming weeks, they said.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Nellis asked Powers to shut the doors to Cutler Hall.

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