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OCAAUP testifies against tenure-related bill

Study committee should focus on real problems in higher ed
On Wednesday, October 11, Steve Mockabee delivered testimony on behalf of OCAAUP in opposition to Substitute House Bill 66. Mockabee is chair of OCAAUP's government relations committee and is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Cincinnati.

HB 66 began as legislation that would have required a minimum teaching load of one, three-hour undergraduate course per semester for every tenured university professor. After hearing overwhelming opposition from stakeholders, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ron Young (R-Leroy Twp.), introduced a substitute bill that instead would create a study committee.

The study committee would be charged with "evaluating each university's commitment to the undergraduate mission, including, but not limited to its efforts to ensure tenured faculty members participate in the undergraduate mission through face-to-face interaction with undergraduate students."

While the substitute bill is a vast improvement from the original version, Mockabee pointed out in his testimony that there is an underlying assumption that tenured faculty do not teach enough, when the real problem is that institutions do not have enough tenured faculty, or full-time faculty in general.

Prof. Mockabee noted that universities, on average, spend just 24% of their budgets employing faculty, and institutions have opted to hire armies of adjuncts in the face of inadequate state support and tuition and fee freezes. He went on to present data from our latest higher education report, Education First, about how little it would cost to convert adjunct positions to more full-time positions.

"At some point, the realization must be made that we get what we pay for. Our institutions of higher education have been holding the line with tuition and fee freezes, and without sufficient financial support from the state to make up for inflationary increases alone. But that obviously cannot continue forever," he stated.

Wrapping up the testimony, Mockabee recommended several amendments to improve the study committee's composition and mission, including an ask for the committee to evaluate the breakdown of faculty at universities and make recommendations for increasing the number of full-time tenured faculty.

He also requested that representatives from the Ohio Faculty Council (OFC) -- the body that represents four-year institution faculty -- be appointed to the committee. An amendment was added during the committee to appoint one member from OFC to the proposed study committee.

Chair of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington), thanked Mockabee for the testimony calling it "insightful and interesting." He asked him whether more adjuncts have been brought in because there is more student demand for higher education, or whether they're being used to save money.

Prof. Mockabee responded that it is likely a function of both, but more so that adjuncts have been used as a cost-savings measure. "Quality is at stake when undergraduate students can't meet with their professors because they don't even have an office to hold office hours, and they're traveling between three or four campuses trying to eek out a living."

Duffey continued with a broad question about the need for tenure. Mockabee explained that tenure allows faculty to take on controversial subjects and take risks with research. Without it, faculty would fear losing their jobs for discussing unpopular views, and likely would avoid risky research that might not pan out the way it was envisioned, he explained.

Other opponent testimony was given by two University of Toledo faculty and can be viewed on the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee website under October 11. Sub. HB 66 likely will be scheduled for interested party testimony in the near future, after which the committee may choose to vote on the bill. We will continue to keep you apprised.