Unions protest UT job cuts, question expensesWritten by Jason Mack | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Three staff and faculty unions at the University of Toledo protested job cuts at UT with a press conference May 17. Mark Sherry, assistant professor of sociology and AFL-CIO delegate, led the press conference along with representatives from the UT-AAUP, AFSCME Local 2415 and CWA Local 4319.
“We are making this statement because we love our students and we care about our university,” Sherry said. “We will not allow this administration to destroy it. We are sick and tired of hearing of management bonuses accompanying employee layoffs. We are sick of feeling scared about job security while management remains unaccountable for lavish expenses. The only reason tuition is going up and layoffs are occurring is because we have an inept and incompetent administration.”
UT President Lloyd Jacobs announced in April plans to lay off dozens of nonfaculty employees and raise tuition as the university faces cuts of approximately $20 million per year in state funding.
One of the employees being laid off spoke out at the protest. Former administrative secretary Carolyn Schlievert ended her career May 20 after 27 years at UT.
“I would have been proud to put in 30 or more years of service and end my career with thoughtful reflections of the past while anticipating a comfortable retirement,” Schlievert said. “However, with a daughter still in high school and bills to pay, these comforting thoughts have been replaced with stress and anxiety. One thing is for sure, there is not time for me to dedicate 30 years of service elsewhere.”
Schlievert said she is looking toward the future and supports fellow laid-off employees in the same situation.
“Those of us losing our jobs are not numbers on a piece of paper,” Schlievert said. “We are real people, dedicated men and women with real-life issues who are trying to pick up the pieces and move on to the next phase of our lives with as much dignity as possible.”
The loss of employees like Schlievert caused Sherry and the unions to question bonuses received by management as well as expenditures of the university.
“Management continues to give themselves record bonuses,” Sherry said. “$350,000 [in bonuses] were ratified by the UT board in February alone while lower-paid workers who struggle to support themselves and their families are being shown the door with little regard for their skills, experience and dedication. As a result, morale is at an all-time low.”
The UT-AAUP raised questions about charges to a UT credit card by administrators. This includes $61,164 on two apartments in Ypsilanti, Mich., $539.09 at Jos. A. Bank of Toledo and movie tickets, among other charges.
UT media relations manager Jonathan Strunk provided explanations for a few of the charges. The two apartments are for UT medical students in their third and fourth years doing clerkships. One specialty is not offered in Toledo, so the university provides apartments while they spend a month at the University of Michigan. The $539.09 was to purchase bowties for the “Tie One On” charity event to raise money for cancer research.
“Those are some examples of how the shadiness is not really all that shady when you learn what the actual things are,” Strunk said.
Sherry still wants more answers from the university.
“This is public money, and the Jacobs administration must be held accountable,” he said. “We have called for an independent audit of the books at the University of Toledo because we feel that the current administration is neither transparent nor accountable.”
According to Sherry, a lack of accountability is one reason approximately 400 faculty, staff and students unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in Jacobs at a rally March 21. CWA 4319 president Bob Hall agreed the administration is not being transparent.
“There’s a black cloud of secrecy over this whole administration,” Hall said. “They are working within that cloud for their own benefit. This is a public university, and the whole public should know what’s going on. When we as a union put in a public records request, we’re not getting those requests timely. They are being evasive. Some of the things we are requesting are critical to the operation and expenditures of money on this campus.”
SB 5 support criticized
Hall said the union also condemns Jacobs’ public support of Senate Bill 5.
“I think it was totally inappropriate and totally uncalled for,” he said. “It sent a message to his employees that ‘I don’t care for you, and I’m going to replace you.’ In his testimony, he said something like the inadequacies of his union workers were costing him millions. What does that tell you if you are a dedicated worker? It’s the wrong message.”
“We also condemn Dr. Jacobs’ public endorsement of Senate Bill 5,” Sherry said. “All three unions have worked tirelessly to get a referendum on this issue in November. Over 2,000 people at the university have signed petitions for this to occur, another indication of the widening gap between an out-of-touch administration and its workers.”
AFSCME President Thomas J. Kosek Jr. expressed support for the unions and laid-off employees such as Schlievert.
“AFSCME 2415 remains steadfast in its commitment to support our partners in this struggle, to ensure shared sacrifice by all members of the UT family,” Kosek said. “At a time when UT is expected to increase tuition, cut staff, increase workloads and ask others to take wage freezes and furlough days, shouldn’t the administration lead by example? The people of Northwest Ohio deserve better.”
Administrators declined to comment on the protest, bonuses or expenditures, but UT Vice President for External Affairs Lawrence J. Burns issued a statement.
“The economic collapse of the last few years has been deeply challenging to organizations and industries across the nation, and higher education is no exception,” Burns said. “In Pennsylvania, legislators have proposed cutting public higher education subsidies by more than 50 percent. In California, tuition rates have climbed more than 30 percent. From Minnesota to Texas, from coast to coast, and in Ohio, public universities are being called on to do more with less.”
Burns said the university is doing its best with the resources available.
“At The University of Toledo, we have worked hard to strengthen the academic experience, our commitment to research and service and our delivery of health care despite these challenges,” Burns said. “We have, wherever possible, eliminated positions through attrition. We have avoided laying off professors and instructors since the recession began, and we have moved millions of dollars from backroom functions to the interface between the student and the teacher.”
Sherry takes everything said by the administration with a grain of salt.
“Don’t let these people fool you,” he said. “The problems at UT are not caused by faculty or staff. They are caused by an incompetent administration.”