AKRON, Ohio – An arbitrator has ruled in favor of the University of Akron in a case that decided whether nearly 70 faculty members would lose their jobs. The layoffs were part of a plan to eliminate about $65 million from the univ​ersity’s $325 million budget.

What You Need To Know

  • About 70 University of Akron faculty will be laid off following months of negotiations

  • An arbitrator concluded that the university demonstrated that its financial circumstances are dire because of the pandemic

  • A class action grievance previously filed, charging that the layoffs disproportionately targeted females, older teachers, faculty of color and other groups, will go forward

The university has argued over the past few months that financial loss from the pandemic is forcing the layoffs. In July, the university’s Board of Trustees approved eliminating nearly 100 union faculty positions, some tenured.  By mid-August retirements and resignations had reduced that number to about 70.

The university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has said cuts should be made to athletics and administrative salaries before cuts to academics. In addition, the union contract states any cuts for financial reasons must first be made to lowest ranking positions with tenured faculty last.

In early August, union members voted to reject the proposed layoffs.  

The employees included in the workforce reduction were let go Aug. 22 pending the outcome of the arbitration.

The university has relied on a “force majeure” clause in the collective bargaining agreement contract that says “catastrophic circumstances” could render parts of the agreement not feasible. That clause cleared the way for the university to move forward with layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs of faculty members, regardless of tenure or rank.

The union also argued that the university’s projections were “overly pessimistic” regarding the pandemic’s impact on student enrollment and reductions in state funding. And criticized the university’s spending on athletics, specifically competing in the Division I Mid-American Conference (MAC).

In a campus-wide email, the university stated exiting the MAC could cost up to $18 million in payouts and an entrance fee into a new conference.

The arbitrator concluded, “the university demonstrated that present circumstances justify the use of the force majeure clause...”

“We are grateful for this decision and look forward to moving ahead with our plans to secure the financial future of the University,” University President Gary Miller said in a statement.

“This has been a hard hit to absorb,” said AAUP President Pam Schultze. “They didn’t have to do it this quickly. They didn’t have to do it this way. It’s just bad for the university. It’s a sad day for the university.”

A class action grievance previously filed, charging that the layoffs disproportionality targeted females, older teachers, faculty of color and other groups, will go forward, she said.

Ultimately, she said, the students will be affected most. “I hope we’re still meeting the student’s needs,” she said. “We’re doing the best that we can.”

In addition to layoffs, the university reorganized its 11 colleges into five, cut some unfilled positions and eliminated men’s golf and cross country, and women’s tennis.