Why I write about AU

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Some people have asked me why I continue to write about what is going on at Ashland University. It’s a question I’ve asked myself numerous times. After all, I escaped AU and landed in a place — Fairfield University — that has made me believe in the wonders of higher education again, a place that has let me see that there are indeed institutions where the administrators and the faculty work together with a common mindset aimed at transforming student lives.

jdm 4 life

The red tag is from Tom Prizeman, a student who transferred away from AU after his favorite professors left. The signature below his belongs to Tim McCarty, a JDM faculty member who was cut in 2014. The one on the bottom is mine, after I left in 2016.

By the time I left AU in 2016, I didn’t have that mindset. It had been washed away by so many maddening and anger-inducing interactions with administrators who made idiotic and sometimes unethical decisions. Of course, one of those last decisions, at least in my time, was the termination of tenured faculty members (14 to be exact, six of whom have filed a lawsuit against AU). Those faculty were all integral to their departments, and worked hard to make a difference in the lives of students.

I left Ashland University in the summer of 2016 because I couldn’t take it anymore. I gave up and walked away from an institution I cared about deeply. That, ultimately, is why I keep finding myself drawn back to writing about what is going on at Ashland University, because truth be told, I love the place. It wasn’t just the university that gave me my first job as a professor. It was also the place where I got my undergraduate degree, where I learned how to be a reporter and why that was important to society, and, most of all, where the faculty transformed me into the man I am today.

I really do love Ashland University, but I have watched presidents and other highly-paid administrators (far more highly-paid than the faculty) and even the board of trustees systematically place their own special interests ahead of the university for far too long. And that, quite frankly, pisses me off.

The BOT and last two presidents of AU have cut the faculty to the bone.

au jdm in vegas

From left: Gretchen Dworznik, myself, Steve Suess, and David McCoy. We were all part of the Journalism and Digital Media Department at AU. Only McCoy is still at AU now.

In 2014, 15 non-tenured faculty were told their contracts were not being renewed. Less than one year later, after Carlos Campo had been president for less than three months, the university cut another 21 faculty, including 14 tenured professors. The latter has resulted in a lawsuit against the university, which is one of the things I first started writing about when I finally got out of Ashland.

Between August 1, 2015 and April 19, 2017, another 27 faculty quit, a number that includes myself. Many of us were not replaced. I was tenured when I quit, but was replaced with a non-tenure, professional instructor position.

I mention the decimation of the faculty at AU because the result has been lots of adjuncts teaching classes, but even worse, many of the full-time faculty having to teach six or even seven courses a semester, all because enough adjuncts can’t be found (or enough refuse to work for the meager pay AU offers) to handle all of the courses that terminated faculty once taught.

This means that faculty — and I know this because I hear from professors from all across the university on a regular basis — just don’t have the time or the energy to have the kind of impact on students’ lives that they used to. They just can’t.

matt au id

My AU student ID, circa 1994-98.

I know even the great Dan Lehman and Joe Mackall, the two English professors who shaped me into the man, writer, and professor that I am today, could not have made the difference they made on me if they were teaching six courses a semester while simultaneously finding themselves embroiled in arguments with university administrators over everything from faculty cuts to no pay raises to the university hiring the president’s 35-year-old son for an on-campus job despite the fact said son had a lengthy criminal record, and, it turns out, active arrest warrants, a son that would barely a year after being hired, be arrested on campus for drug dealing.

So I write about what is going on at Ashland University because I love Ashland

collegian ona

The Collegian staff and myself at the Ohio Newspaper Association annual meeting.

University. I get excited when I see the men’s and women’s basketball teams both sporting 18-1 records this season. I get excited when I see the amazing stuff the Journalism and Digital Media Department is doing when it comes to live-streaming virtually every event that happens on campus (despite the fact they are down to just two faculty, even as their enrollments go through the roof). I get excited when I see that Ashland University is included in the Say Yes to Education campaign. I get excited when Psychology professors at Fairfield University tell me they know Christopher Chartier, an AU Psychology professor, because of the Psychological Science Accelerator that he created.

bils and bucheit

Ashland University JDM grads Chris Bils and Elizabeth Bucheit work a women’s basketball game when they were students. Bils is now working for the Austin American Statesman covering Major League Soccer. Bucheit is a production coordinator at ESPN.

There is still great stuff happening at Ashland University, but none of it is happening on the administrative side or because of administrators. It’s happening in spite of them. And the great things that are happening at AU would increase in number and as well as greatness if the university just had credible, competent, ethical leaders.

There is a vortex of leadership on the administrative side of AU, and it is sucking everything at the university down with it.

That leads to the other reason I write about what is happening at AU; somebody needs to keep an eye on those making the decisions there. The Times Gazette and the Collegian do the best they can, but they can only do so much. And if the board and Campo are able to go about doing whatever they want to do, whenever they want to, Ashland University will crumble.

I write about the goings-on at AU because I want the place to get better. And I can tell you right now that sweeping things under the rug and hoping they go away, hoping that nobody is paying attention, is never the recipe for improvement. It’s a recipe for continued incompetence and corruption.

It’s not going to get fixed if it’s not visible. I’m doing my best to make it visible.

The Author

Matt Tullis is the author of Running With Ghosts: A Memoir of Surviving Childhood Cancer. He is the director of Digital Journalism at Fairfield University, and is the host and producer of Gangrey: The Podcast.

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