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Some faculty at Ohio State's Marion campus want to form a union and could get answers soon

The library and classroom building on the Ohio State University Marion campus.
Jo McCulty
Ohio State University

A group of tenured and tenure track faculty at Ohio State University’s Marion Campus will find out soon if it can move forward with its efforts to unionize.

Organizers and supporters said the university has obstructed their right to vote, but the administration said they are following standard procedures.

Scot Kaplan, a tenured art professor at Marion Campus, has led the

Kaplan classroom.jpg
Scot Kaplan, Ohio State associate art professor
Scot Kaplan's art class on Marion campus. Kaplan also says there is a lack of accessibility to resources for his class, like art studios, compared to those near main campus.

unionization effort that started in March.

“There are differences in working conditions, there are differences in working hours, there are differences in support services and that speaks to not one university," Kaplan, has worked at the university for two decades, said. "So, I don’t understand the foundation by which they are choosing to support the system that totally speaks to inequity.”

When the university switched from quarters to semesters in 2012, Kaplan said faculty at the Marion campus continued to teach more classes than their main campus counterparts.

“We were traditionally teaching more - we were teaching six when the Columbus campus was teaching five," he said. "When they got their courses reduced to four, we had to keep ours at six.”

Another sticking point is pay. Kaplan said there is about a $15,000 difference in salaries compared to main campus faculty.

“Even in the current salary data from 2021, the average salary of a regional campus faculty is about $71,000," he said. "The average salary of a Columbus campus faculty member is about $86,000.”

Ohio State University spokesman Ben Johnson in a statement said that the university employs nearly 50,000 at-will, contract and bargaining unit workers. He said OSU “strives to provide an inspiring and equitable work environment for all of our employees on campus.”

Ohio State University President Kristina Johnson, left, speaks with students after delivering the University Address on April 21, 2022 at the Wexner Center for the Arts.
Logan Wallace
Ohio State
Ohio State University President Kristina Johnson, left, speaks with students after delivering the University Address on April 21, 2022 at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

On a recent episode of WOSU's All Sides with Ann Fisher, Ohio State president Kristina Johnson was asked about the pay disparities between admin, faculty and staff, and if the university should change the wage scale for high-level administrators.

“What I can say is that we do have conversations about doing comparables [sic] and compare them to peer institutions," she said. "To be competitive in the marketplace, in order to get the best faculty and administrators, we need to be competitive and make sure we can attract the very best here.”

Johnson said the number of tenure track faculty at Ohio State is down by 72 professors compared to 2019. Johnson said she intends to hire 350 new tenured track faculty over the next decade. Some of that work is being done through RAISE, the Tenure-Track Fellow to Faculty Program and more.

With OSU failing to take the steps they wanted, Kaplan said about 35 tenured and tenured-track faculty at OSU Marion overwhelmingly agreed in March to hold a vote to unionize.

The group submitted unionization cards with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCM) Council 8. Those cards were submitted to the Ohio Employee Relations Board, which oversees union efforts in the state.

That’s when Kaplan said the situation got even more complicated, with OSU hiring a third-party law firm to, in his words, obstruct its ability to hold a vote.

“They are not fighting for the faculty, they’re not fighting for the students, they’re not fighting for the citizens of Ohio," he said. "Who are they fighting for?”

Kaplan said OSU maintains faculty at the Marion campus are part of the same university and cannot unionize separately. OSU spokesman Ben Johnson said that Ohio State has not obstructed faculty’s ability to vote. He said they’re following rules set by the Employee Relations Board.

In a statement, Johnson said that “As a state institution, we are bound by the rules and regulations of the State Employee Relations Board… which the matter is currently pending.”

Johnson adds that the university is fully participating in the proceedings. He said that hiring an outside law firm in situations like this is routine. WOSU asked for a copy of the university’s contract with the law firm Vorys but it wasn’t immediately available.

Organizers and university representatives will meet for a hearing with the State Employee Relations Board soon to decide if the tenured and track faculty at the Marion campus can move forward with the vote to unionize.

A meeting was set for Tuesday, but it's been delayed. The hearing is now set for Oct. 3 and 4.

Organizers have broad support from state and local leaders, and other campus faculty. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce, Columbus City Council president Shannon Hardin and others have called on Ohio State to allow a vote to happen.

Kaplan hopes the employee relations board will side with faculty.

“The determinations of serve are not appealable," he said. "Which creates if it goes our way a safe position to move forward, but it’s certainly nerve-wracking. Will it happen? I don’t know. I would love to feel confidence but within a broader global society my confidence is shaken. It’s not feeling like people are the focus any longer.”

If Kaplan and others succeed, they would form the first faculty union at Ohio State.

Tyler Thompson is a reporter and on-air host for 89.7 NPR News. Thompson, originally from northeast Ohio, has spent the last three years working as a Morning Edition host and reporter at NPR member station KDLG Public Radio and reporter at the Bristol Bay Times Newspaper in Dillingham, Alaska.