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OWU Fires Long-term Staff Members without Giving Notice

By Azmeh Talha

Transcript Reporter

Arts and Entertainment Editor

aatalha@owu.edu

Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU) dismissed four employees this past summer in budget cost cutting move. They were escorted off campus, which some say violated the sense of community that OWU promotes.

Dr. Anne Sokolsky, the program chair for comparative literature,described the security escort as over the top. She further said that OWU is a small liberal arts college, not a corporation.

“Security detail to escort long-time staff person who supported our university over the years just seems like a horrible way to end someone’s work life here,” Sokolsky said.

Joy Gao, an OWU librarian for 20 years was fired over the July 4 weekend. Another librarian also was terminated from her position but would not talk on the record. They were terminated in an effort to balance the 2019-20 fiscal budget, President Rock Jones said. Jones said the dismissals had nothing to do with the performance of the staff members.

“The university made a number of personnel decisions, including leaving positions unfilled, combining positions, reassigning duties and eliminating positions – some which were occupied and some vacant,” Jones said.

Gao described her dismissal as humiliating, inhumane and abrupt. She said she gave the best years of her life to OWU and she was dismissed without being given any notice. Gao also compared her dismissal to a sudden death in the family; the death is so sudden that it is difficult.

Gao sent an email on July 28. to different faculty departments about her dismissal with the subject “A more dignifying good bye.” In the email she said:

“I was let go by OWU today and it was very abrupt! I was called to meet Scott from Human Resources and was informed that my position was eliminated! I only had a few minutes to gather my stuff from the office.”

When contacted, Scott Simon, the director of human resources, refused to comment.

Gao said her library colleague, who was also fired, was escorted off campus by Public Safety.

“…to see her escorted out by a security guy, it was just heartbreaking!  We were treated as criminals, thugs!  Do you think we deserve better than this?  How can you forget all the extra reference shifts I did and instructions sessions I taught to keep the library running during those difficult and transitional times?” Gao wrote in her email.

Robert Wood, the director of Public Safety, refused to comment.

In her email, Gao further described her feelings about the dismissal:

“It was very humiliating and does not reflect my contributions and devotion to this institution I have worked for over 20 years.

“Are we so insignificant, so worthless that we are not worthy of any of their consideration or thought?”

“If it was the position, not the person, then I think Joy should have been given another job,” Sokolsky said. “Why would any staff member want to be loyal to OWU if longevity is honored by being fired? This process does not help staff morale.”

Sokolsky worked closely with Gao. She mentioned Gao’s importance for her own research on East Asian studies.

“Joy can read Chinese. This was incredibly helpful for me because she is the only librarian who understood the obscure documents and books that I would request through Inter-Library Loan for my own research. It should be noted my research informs my teaching, so the loss of Joy has impacted me in two ways – teaching and scholarship,” Sokolsky said.

Sokolsky wrote a letter to Jones about Gao’s firing. In it, she mentioned she was disturbed by the elimination of a librarian’s position and the way she was terminated.

“Every time there is a budget crisis, the people who pay are those who have done nothing to contribute to this crisis. The library has already been hit by budget cuts before,” Sokolsky said.

In her 13 years at OWU, Sokolsky said she can remember at least two times when cuts were made to the library budget.

Gao said that workforce reduction should be more balanced across the board and not just target staff members. Sokolsky had similar thoughts.

“To date, I have no idea how many cuts were made in Admissions or in the recently created Division of Student Engagement and Academic Success. Moreover, the above sentence ‘cuts were made across the board’ does not acknowledge that cuts have already been made to the library,” Sokolsky said in an email.

Deanne Peterson, the director of the library, referred question to Brian A. Rellinger, associate provost of academic support. Rellinger refused to comment.

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