May 8, 2020

Miami layoffs likely to impact City of Oxford's budget

Pandemic related shutdowns of businesses have resulted in more than 26 million Americans filing for unemployment over the past few weeks. Miami University also is feeling a budgetary impact from coronavirus, laying off visiting professors and cutting salaries in the upper administration.

The university has refunded over $27 million in housing and board fees to students who were forced to leave the dormitories in March.

Among those affected by the budget cuts are many visiting assistant professors (VAPS) and other contingent staff workers. The Miami chapter of the American Association of University Professors estimates around 150 to 200 people will be laid off by the university for this upcoming fall semester, according to Cathy Wagner, President of Miami’s AAUP chapter.

As Oxford’s largest employer, that means a hit to the city’s finances as well. Some of those laid off will be leaving Oxford, while all of them will stop paying the city’s earnings tax. “One of our goals, financially, for Oxford is for people to work and live in Oxford,” said Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene.

Every professor that has been laid off was paying a 2% city earnings tax each year, regardless of whether or not they lived in Oxford. “It’s hard to tell without knowing yet how much each professor earned, but it will personally affect us, that’s for sure,” said Joseph Newlin, finance director for the city.

City Manager Doug Elliott said the city is waiting to hear from the university about specific numbers regarding the layoffs. However, “In 2014 when we did get numbers from (Miami), they provided about 53% of our general fund revenue,” Elliott said.

Elliott said the city has put a temporary freeze on most hiring of city employees because of financial uncertainty. “We are also reevaluating any capital expenditure for the upcoming months,” he said.

The cuts at Miami mean less tax money to the city and more vacant housing spaces. The university is already expecting as much as 20% drop in enrollment for the fall. That translates to fewer customers in Oxford businesses and possibly a drop in people paying rent for off-campus housing.

During the 2018-2019 academic year, 286 visiting assistant professors worked for Miami, and the provost’s office has stated that only about 100 of those are expected to be renewed for the fall semester. Many of those 100 positions will be funded by grants, not by Miami’s general funds.

“We have already approved 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,” said Carole Johnson,  interim director of university news and communications.

Miami is not the only school deciding to lay off hundreds of faculty members. The University of Dayton plans on cutting its staff by about 500, and Kent State has reported similar figures.  

Universities across the nation have been under significant financial stress due to the pandemic, with universities such as Yale, Brown and Ohio University all deciding to “freeze”  hiring new faculty, instead of having layoffs.

Visiting assistant professors are considered contingent faculty, meaning they work on a year-to-year contract with the university.

“Contingent faculty are faculty who have no job security, including the full-time and part-time faculty who have lost their jobs this spring,” said the AAUP’s Wagner. “The situation is most of all harmful for those faculty because they are insecure and losing their incomes and health insurance during a pandemic,” Wagner said.

Miami University was also one of the few universities to impose faculty cuts before salary cuts were made to administrators. Wagner said a petition circulated by the AAUP, signed by more than 800 faculty members at Miami, may have been the reason the administration took pay cuts at all. “In the long term, the best thing we can do is work to educate the community about how damaging our reliance on contingent faculty is,” she said.

Miami’s President Gregory Crawford announced he was taking a 25% pay cut due to the crisis but is still making more than $400,000 in salary, and the head coach of Miami’s football team just received a raise in salary to over half a million.

Dan DiPiero, a visiting professor of American Studies at Miami, is one of the contingent faculty members who will not have a job this fall. The move has left him questioning Miami’s commitment to teaching.

“Every decision the administration has made to this point has been made at the expense of teaching faculty, which signals that it does not prioritize teaching and learning,” he said.