I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I've supported Bearcats basketball through the team’s transition from the Metro Conference, to the Great Midwest, Conference USA, the Big East, and now the American Athletic Conference. I currently own four season tickets to Bearcats football. My heart sank when Kenyon Martin’s leg snapped in 2000 and soared when Tony Pike’s pass dropped into the hands of Armon Binns in 2009. I earned two degrees—my B.A. and M.A.—from the University of Cincinnati. I've worked as a professor in the Department of Communication since 2001. My wife and I bought our first home in Clifton’s Gaslight District in 2012 because we wanted to plant permanent roots in the community.
My point is simple: I love the University of Cincinnati. Deeply. Passionately. Fanatically. I live, work, and play in Uptown Cincinnati. This is my hometown. My Reds, Bengals, and Bearcats fandom isn't manufactured. My colleagues and students are like family. This job isn't a stepping stone to a more glamorous career. There is no place else I would rather be.
With that in mind, you might be surprised to discover that my Bearcat pride is currently waning. Which is odd, since this time last year, my Bearcat pride ascended to record heights. Santa Ono became UC’s interim president, his enthusiasm energized faculty, students, and alums, the transition to semesters was complete, Bearcat athletics were on a roll, and the future looked bright.
Things have changed.
University of Cincinnati faculty members have been working without a contract for four months. Negotiations between faculty and the administration began in early March and have been stagnant ever since. While neither side is ever completely to blame for an unresolved conflict—and make no mistake about it, I am clearly biased (who doesn't want to make more money?)—I will simply let the facts speak for themselves:
UC faculty salaries rank in bottom 35% nationally: http://chronicle.com/article/aaup-survey-data-2013/138309#id=201885. (To be fair, I have also seen data that suggests we rank in the bottom 40% nationally, but whichever statistic you choose, it's not good.) This makes it incredibly difficult for the university to recruit and retain excellent faculty. When current faculty members are offered more money elsewhere, and UC refuses to match the offer, many are forced to leave for greener pastures. More concerning, as you can see in the study, is that Assistant Professor salaries at UC rank in the bottom 12% nationally. 12 percent! Why is that so alarming? When a university wants to attract the best faculty, making an offer that ranks in the bottom 12% isn't going to lure many young, talented teachers and/or researchers. The best young faculty will take jobs at universities that aren't drowning in the bottom 12%. Departments are then forced to hire their third, fourth, or sometimes fifth choice. The quality of education at UC goes down, the brightest students matriculate elsewhere, and our university suffers.
This is unacceptable.
So, in the latest round of contract negotiations, how has UC’s administration addressed this problem? Primarily, by offering a 1.1% salary increase (this is less than the 1.7% cost of living increase for 2013) and raising healthcare costs by over 400%. (There are additional articles of their proposal that are equally frustrating, and equally detrimental to attracting great faculty, but I'll focus on financials for now.) Practically speaking, many faculty—including myself—will effectively take a pay decrease if we accept the administration’s offer. Already in the bottom 35% nationally and being offered a pay decrease? Incredibly disheartening and potentially catastrophic for the university.
No one appreciates the enthusiasm Santa Ono has generated around campus more than I do. I attended UC back when a sea of concrete reminded students that the university was nothing more than an above average commuter campus. The football team stunk and UC felt like a perpetual “Plan B.” I've had the pleasure to watch that change over the past two decades. The University of Cincinnati has evolved into an excellent school—the “Plan A” for thousands of students throughout the world. Santa Ono didn't single-handedly revitalize UC. That process began long before he arrived, but his energy and visibility have certainly caused the pride meter to spike for many students, alums, and faculty ... including myself.
But, unfortunately, the primary reason my Bearcat pride is now wavering is because UC’s administration has shown very little leadership during our contract negotiations. The administration hired three different outside attorneys to serve as lead negotiator instead of rolling up their sleeves and getting this critical job done themselves. This transference of leadership during contract negotiations hasn't happened at UC since the 1990’s. Photo ops at football games and tweeting Macklemore lyrics are perfectly fine ways to engage the community. Energizing students and alums is important. But, at some point, leaders have to lead.
I understand that state funding continues to shrink, but UC just welcomed its largest freshman class in history. The university recently celebrated raising one billion dollars. Approximately $90 million in debt is being absorbed by UC to renovate the football stadium. Tommy Tuberville is being paid $2.2 million annually, and Mick Cronin just received a raise to approximately $1.6 million per year. In August, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Santa Ono received a $354,544 bonus in 2012. Chief Investment Officer Karl Scheer received a $139,965 bonus. Athletic Director Whit Babcock’s bonus was $67,500 (which was more than my total salary for all of last year). Dean Ron Jackson took home $25,000. Keep in mind, these bonuses are in addition to base salaries well north of six figures. Since 2006, administrative costs have increased by 29% while the faculty budget has actually gone down during that same span. In other words, there’s plenty of money to go around; this administration just doesn't seem to want the faculty to get their fair share.
To his credit, earlier this year, President Ono announced that he wouldn't take a raise or any bonus for two years in order to help slow tuition increases. That’s wonderful, but while it’s a nice gesture, a person making $525,000 per year (in addition to numerous fringe benefits, including the infamous Catmobile, which was purchased by the university) is in a much better position to turn down a salary increase than an assistant professor making less than $60,000.
Underpaying faculty is not good for the University of Cincinnati. Hiring affordable professors instead of excellent professors is not good for students. Of course I’d love a raise (I'd especially like to avoid a pay decrease), and I’m certainly not complaining about my lifestyle. I feel incredibly blessed to earn a living in a career that I adore. I realize many Americans are losing jobs, being denied raises, and experiencing a steady increase in healthcare costs. But, please understand, this letter isn't about my wallet. For this Cincinnati native and die-hard Bearcats fan, it’s about the bigger picture. I’m writing because I’m worried about the University of Cincinnati. I want my Alma mater to thrive. I want my employer to truly be an elite university for many years to come. I want my students to be professionally and personally prepared for life after graduation. Shortchanging faculty is not the way to achieve those goals.
Do you want a doctor whose salary ranks in the bottom 35% nationally? Would you visit a hospital filled with surgeons who were the administration's third or fourth choice during the hiring process because the best surgeons took jobs making more money in better hospitals? How about an attorney when you're facing false murder charges? A dentist who's about ready to perform your root canal? A veterinarian taking care of your sick puppy? The pilot of your plane?
No? So why learn from an inferior product? The University of Cincinnati currently employs some of the best faculty in the world, but that will change unless this administration does the right thing and offers a fair contract.
The nice thing about living in 2013 is that everyone has a voice. Because President Ono is active on Twitter (@PrezOno), it gives students and alums a platform for expressing their opinions. Tweet at President Ono and make your voice heard. Tell him you want to see excellent faculty retained and young academic superstars offered more competitive salaries. Tell him you want to see more leadership from current UC administrators instead of farming out contract negotiations to attorneys with no investment in UC’s future. Tell him to honor his commitment to put students first by filling our university with the best teachers and researchers in the world.
Catchphrases are cute, but there needs to be substance behind the clichés. Now is the time for the #HottestCollegeInAmerica to live up to its hashtag.