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March Board of Trustees meeting includes talks about unionization, mental health and tenure

Miami’s Board of Trustees went over tenure, mental health and the faculty union at the March 3 meeting.
Miami’s Board of Trustees went over tenure, mental health and the faculty union at the March 3 meeting.

On March 3, after two days of committee meetings, Miami University’s Board of Trustees  gathered in Marcum Conference Center to meet with chief administrators and receive updates on the university’s big news.

The meeting was filled with various audience members, some of whom had to stand against the wall just to fit. However, not all of the audience was there just to listen to the board — some were there in support of the Faculty Alliance of Miami (FAM).

Faculty show up in support of union

FAM members spoke at the start of the meeting during a public comment session, advocating for Miami faculty to be allowed to vote on a proposed collective bargaining unit.

At the time, FAM was waiting on an announcement from the State Employment Relations Board (SERB) to determine who could be included in the unit. On March 9, the university shared SERB’s announcement that only tenure and tenure-track faculty and non-tenure track teaching, clinical professors and lecturers faculty would be included (librarians and visiting assistant professors excluded).

Deborah Lyons, a professor of French, Italian and Classical Studies, said to the board that the union would help improve professors’ ability to teach.

“We are creating education, a public good. I know that everyone in this room shares the goal of providing an excellent learning environment for our students,” Lyons said. “There is no reason for this to be an adversarial relationship.”

Daniel Hall, a professor of justice and community studies and political science, spoke about his experience with unions at previous universities, citing Miami’s problems for a push to unionize.

“Presently, faculty morale is the lowest I have ever witnessed, at any university, in my 33 years in higher education,” Hall said. “A lack of transparency, unfair processes and draconian rules and disciplinary procedures are contributors to this problem.”

After the public session, Miami’s Provost Liz Mullenix presented the board with 38 people to be granted tenure by the board.

Mullenix said 26 were given tenure with promotion to associate professor and 10 were given tenure with promotion to full professor. One librarian was given tenure and an associate professor also received tenure.

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University Senate puts focus on mental health

Thomas Poetter, chair of University Senate, presented news about Miami’s senate during the 2023 spring semester. Poetter began by highlighting the presentations at the senate’s most recent retreat, which focused primarily on mental health and well-being.

“These presentations generated substantive conversations and understanding regarding the work ahead and the issues facing the entire campus, students, faculty and staff regarding mental health,” Poetter said.

Mental health was brought up at other times during the meeting. The board announced that the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services awarded Miami with $1.2 million for Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education).

The funds are for increasing awareness of mental health issues and providing services to combat them.

“We are at a crucial moment with mental health on our campus,” said John Fazio, one of the board’s student members. “Our students now, and the ones who will come to us in the future, need our help.”

Poetter said that although the senate hadn’t passed any 2023 resolutions at the time of the trustees meeting, the senate would be voting on pending resolutions at the March 6 meeting. The senate was focusing time on hearing presentations from university leaders.

One of these presentations was the budget symposium on Feb. 6, where Mullenix and David Creamer, senior vice president for finance and business services and university treasurer, went over Miami’s budget deficit.

“We are all concerned with the budget from all of our own unique perspectives, and this annual event and presentation, in my opinion, helps to frame and interpret the challenges we face as a community altogether,” Poetter said. “The extension of the information to at least the college level by leadership is a strong example of multiple layers of our system working together as per our mission to share governance.”

Student Body President highlights progress of the past year

Amitoj Kaur, outgoing student body president, also spoke at the trustees meeting, reflecting on her year as president.

Kaur highlighted her recent efforts to provide free menstrual products on Miami’s Oxford campus.

“This past month we announced to the entire Miami community that this semester all women's and gender neutral restrooms will have free menstrual products,” Kaur said. “You'll be happy to hear we're working with the regional student government right now to get the same program implemented on your campuses as well.”

Kaur also shared her personal struggles with mental health to the board as indicative of larger problems throughout campus.

“When we look at the job of a student body president, oftentimes we hear them when they achieve high successes, when they come to public speaking engagements, when they’re on social media,” Kaur said. “But rarely do we reach out to them when things aren’t going well, when things are quiet, when perhaps they may be struggling.”

President Crawford shares successes in research and sustainability

Miami President Greg Crawford then spoke to the board, highlighting many professors for their successful research and achievements. Crawford also shared that the university’s sustainability efforts led to an invitation to the White House with nine other schools.

“Our work has been recognized because of all the geothermal [energy], and that resulted in more [than] a 50% cut in our equipment over the past decade,” Crawford said. “We're very excited about that.”

Crawford also highlighted the Amtrak station that will begin construction in Oxford in 2026 and discussed the recently opened Fisher Innovation College@Elm Center.

“You can go from your idea stage all the way through manufacturing, which I think is really unique for us situated in such a small town,” Crawford said. “But another thing that's really attractive about [the center] is that it's about art as well.”

Senior student member gives farewell

Despite the highlights and recognition, the meeting did not go without a few tears.

The meeting was the last for Dawson Cosgrove, the senior student member, with his two-year term coming to an end. Cosgrove fought tears as he delivered a closing speech to the board.

“Today is kind of a bittersweet day for me. It marks the beginning of the end of this particular chapter in my life,” Cosgrove said. “It is the people who make Miami University special and … it has been the honor of a lifetime to be able to be a representative of the student body and a representative of Miami University.”

Fazio will take over Cosgrove’s position as senior student member. In a speech to Cosgrove, Fazio promised to carry on his legacy.

“As we move forward, I will facilitate open discussion and collaboration across Miami to guide deliberate, impactful and lasting change,” Fazio said. “So many of these goals and skills are things that Dawson has shown me.”

The board concluded the meeting by presenting Cosgrove with parting gifts, including a special stole to represent Cosgrove’s work for the Miami community.