May 6, 2020
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville chapter of the American Association of University Professors stands in solidarity with the faculty of Ohio University. In recent days, we have learned that dozens of OU faculty and staff have been laid off amidst a budgetary crisis aggravated — but not initiated — by COVID-19. It is particularly disturbing that the OU administration chose to begin faculty layoffs in the departments of African-American Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. As this situation evolves, and announcements of further cuts are made, a preponderance of those cuts seems to take aim at humanities departments — English, history, and philosophy — and certain social-science disciplines.
UTK’s chapter of AAUP understands the centrality of African-American Studies and WGS Studies to higher education’s primary mission of furthering critical thought, promoting humane values, and producing knowledge. But more than that: to fire faculty from these disciplines first is to show a special callousness concerning the structures of inequality and oppression that those disciplines interrogate and seek explicitly to overcome. Similarly, to further winnow the ranks of literature and language scholars, historians, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, and other humanities and social science faculty is not only to reduce the overall quality of a university education, but also to ignore these disciplines’ crucial role in investigating the human condition in all of its diversity.
The OU chapter of the AAUP speaks for all public universities, including our own, in its May 4, 2020 statement: “Terminating faculty and programs threatens our very foundations. There are other ways to deal with our crisis. Making faculty central to the decision-making process is the first step toward finding those alternatives.”