When two Miami University sophomores found out many current faculty members won’t have a job at the university in the fall, they knew they had to do something. Makayla Archer and Ruku Pal heard about the changes from friends and professors and came across a petition put out by Miami’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, an advocacy group for faculty.
Archer and Pal wanted to give students a platform to show solidarity with professors, so they started a petition of their own.
“There's a big difference between the professors themselves saying that they matter and they're important and the students showing their support,” Pal said.
The petition, which has more than 800 signatures, implores the university to “find the love and honor in [their] hearts” and find a way to save money lost from the novel coronavirus that doesn’t involve “compromising [students’] education by letting go of some of [their] most influential mentors.”
Miami recently offered fall appointments to around 100 full-time contingent faculty members, which is a more than 50 percent decline from the number employed this school year. More may be offered positions after June 1, the enrollment deadline for incoming first-years.
Contingent faculty members are those in positions with shorter contracts that aren’t guaranteed a job from year to year. This includes visiting assistant professors (VAPs) and instructors, who are given one-year contracts for up to five years, and visiting faculty (referred to as adjuncts at other universities), who are hired per class. In some cases, VAPs are able to stay for longer than five years, with a 75 percent workload.
“Miami, like most universities, hires visiting faculty each year to supplement our 900 continuing faculty to meet our curricular needs,” wrote Interim Director of University News and Communications Carole Johnson in a statement to The Miami Student. “These appointments are annual and are dependent on student course demand and academic department needs. This has been Miami’s practice for many years and it was not changed this year.”
Johnson did not respond to further requests for comment about the petition.
Archer and Pal both said they have had VAPs go out of their way to help them, whether that be on personal projects like starting a blog or by offering to write recommendations for graduate school in the future. They made the petition to advocate on behalf of those who have been so helpful to them and other students.
Another goal of the petition was to open a discussion and provide information for students who may not have heard about the situation.
Junior Tessa Perry found out about the loss of contingent faculty members from one of her current professors and from Archer and Pal’s petition, which she saw on Facebook.
Perry said she is disappointed there hasn’t been any communication from the administration about what is happening.
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President Greg Crawford briefly mentioned the contingent faculty members in his video update about how Miami is handling the coronavirus, but he said 100 positions have been offered without providing any context for people who may not know how that differs from the norm.
“I wish that they would have explained when they made that decision, emailed us students and said, ‘This is what we have done. This is why we did it,’” Perry said. “And I would have liked them to say, ‘We went through every other option other than cutting the teachers’ because why are we here if it’s not to get an education?”
One of the professors losing his job is visiting faculty member Michael Scoggins, who has been teaching two-credit-hour social dance classes at Miami for 17 years. A group of his undergraduate assistants (UAs) made a separate petition to reinstate him.
Junior Ami Schulte took one of his classes the fall of her freshman year and has been a UA for Scoggins every semester since.
Schulte said she loves the dance classes because they’re relaxing and give her a break from the many science classes she takes as a botany and biochemistry double major.
“I just think it's a shame that they're cutting him,” Schulte said about Scoggins. “He definitely cares about us [UAs] and cares about the students … And he definitely makes the college experience more fun.”
Sophomore Nina Emlemdi has also been affected by the loss of contingent faculty members on a personal level. Her mom, Fatima Emlemdi, was a VAP in the Global Initiatives department teaching Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) 159, Strength through Cultural Diversity.
Growing up in a family with four brothers, Nina said she has always been close with her mom, the only other female in the family. She said she has loved going to the school where her mom works and will be lonely without her next year.
She also isn’t sure how she will be able to afford Miami in the fall, as both of her parents lost their jobs in the past week.
“I'm in shock that my mom was let go because she's so loved and popular,” Nina said, describing how students would come up and hug her mom when they saw her in Armstrong Student Center.
“Without those people, the ones who make you feel like your college is a community and you're welcome there and your ideas and voices are heard … I'm kind of scared for what the future looks like,” Nina added.
There are currently no sections of social dance or IDS 159 on the course list for the fall semester.
Ultimately, Pal and Archer intended for their petition to give students a voice.
“We want students to know that their voice has power and that it is just the little things of signing a petition or putting out on social media or speaking to a visiting professor, it is the littlest things that make the most amount of change,” Archer said.
“And it is when we believe that we can't make change that we won't,” she added. “But if we really, really believe in ourselves and our capabilities, and even in this time of crisis, we have the power to make change.”