Testimony of John McNay, President of the Ohio Conference of AAUP, on House Bill 484, before the Ohio State Senate Finance Committee, on May 13, 2014
Chairman Oelslager, Ranking Member Sawyer, and distinguished members of the Senate Finance Committee: my name is John McNay and I am President of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which represents nearly 4,500 college and university professors at both public and private institutions of higher education across the State of Ohio. I am also a professor of American history at the University of Cincinnati where I teach courses on the Cold War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. I recently became chair of the history department at the UC-Blue Ash campus.
I come to you today to voice my association’s support for the House-passed version of House Bill 484. I applaud the work that was done by House members, particularly those that serve on the Higher Education Subcommittee, in amending this legislation to reflect a bipartisan and fairer approach to these important issues.
As it stands now, HB 484 requires state universities to report and evaluate their workload policies and procedures to the Board of Regents by the end of this calendar year. The bill specifically calls for universities to work with faculty and organizations that represent faculty on furnishing this report. It is my understanding that some individuals and organizations would like to see the requirement for faculty involvement removed from the legislation, but it is important that this provision remain intact.
All too often faculty are excluded from discussions that directly involve our work. If the General Assembly and Board of Regents desire a report and evaluation that accurately reflects the time and work that faculty invest in their teaching, research, advising, and service at universities, faculty must be part of the process.
In addition, the House-passed version of HB 484 removed language originally in the bill that called for universities to come up with a plan to increase faculty workload by an arbitrary 10 percent. As you probably are aware, this is just one of several ill-conceived workload mandates that has been proposed over the last few years.
Workload policies are carefully crafted at the college, department, and individual faculty levels. It is important for it to remain that way. Mandates from the state may be well-intended, but would have unintended, adverse consequences that could affect student success as well as Ohio’s ability to attract and retain the best and brightest faculty. As such, it is our hope that the Senate concurs with the House in keeping this provision out of the bill.
Additionally, I would like to address Section 7 of the legislation, which creates the Higher Education Student Financial Aid Workgroup. My association firmly believes that it needs to be made explicit in the bill that a faculty member be invited to participate in this workgroup.
In order to have a thorough conversation about financial aid, there has to be a discussion about where the money at our universities currently is being spent. The mainstream assumption is that college is so expensive due to the faculty that have to be employed; however, Ohio’s colleges and universities, on average, spend less than 30 percent of their operating budgets on total faculty compensation-–salary and benefits. These are issues that likely will not be addressed given the current make-up of the workgroup.
In the vein of financial assistance to students, I would like to respectfully request that this committee work to restore funding to the Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG). Since 2009, when OCOG funding was cut by more than half from $358 million to $171 million, and requirements were changed so that federal Pell Grants are applied before a student can receive OCOG funding, low-income students have been put at an even greater financial disadvantage. Students used to be able to count on OCOG to help with college-related expenses outside of tuition and fees, but are now struggling to pay for living expenses and books.
We need to be making it easier, not harder, for students to go to college. We cannot talk seriously about higher education’s role in the economic recovery when students are being saddled with so much debt that they have extremely limited purchasing power after graduation. A February 26, 2014 article published by Time entitled “Student Loans are Ruining Your Life. Now They’re Ruining the Economy, Too,” reports the widespread agreement among economists that graduates’ inability to spend is not just hurting them, but the entire economy.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My association and I want to be partners with you in making our higher education system the best it can be. We welcome opportunities to be involved and be heard outside of committee hearings. I would be happy to answer any questions that the committee may have.