Letter from the editor: I love my professors, the way they’re being treated is a disgrace


Jeff Thomas

The Oakland Post’s Editor-in-Chief — Jeff Thomas.

Jeff Thomas, Editor-in-Chief

Somehow I have arrived here in this moment as Editor-in-Chief (EIC) of The Oakland Post covering one the most significant stories in OU history — this year’s faculty contract negotiations. It hasn’t been easy, but I hope you know I’m doing what I can to inform the campus community. As a journalist, I’m committed to our readers. It’s what you deserve, it’s what The Post is here to do.

As EIC, a lot comes across my desk. It’s important to me that you all know how much I’ve been moved by the letters I’ve received from professors, students and alumni concerning these negotiations. As journalists, all we can really do is put information out there and hope that people care. The incredible responses we’ve received these past few weeks are a testament to the strength of this campus community and just how much people do care. To see so many willing to stand up and say “I care about students, I care about professors and I care about OU,” there’s not much more I could have asked for than that. So, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

With all that being said, I want to talk to you all not as Jeff Thomas the EIC, but as Jeff Thomas the student — the 27-year-old man from a village in the Thumb. As so many of you have bravely done, I’m here to share my experiences and why OU and this community are important to me. I’m sharing my life in this letter because you’ve made me believe it’s the right thing to do, and that now is the right time to do it.

I’ve bounced around a bit in my life. I’ve worked in the warehouses and on the job sites. I’ve spent my days with co-workers of all ages and from all different backgrounds. I’ve done all kinds of different work, but I was never quite happy — I never felt right until I came back here to OU. There’s an optimism and a sincereness that exists among college students that doesn’t exist in the same way out in “the real world.” That phenomenon has lifted me up, and in a lot of ways changed my life.

I want to express my heartfelt belief that our institutions of higher learning are sacred places pivotal to the wellbeing of our society, and that of those institutions — OU is an exceptional place. A magic exists on this campus that doesn’t exist anywhere else. That magic exists because of how invested our faculty are in their students. They are leaders in the classroom and, as we’ve seen during these negotiations, leaders in the community too.

Now, it would be impossible for me to convey what my professors have meant to my life without first sharing some deeply-personal details about myself. This is something I’m reluctant to do, but I know in my heart that now is the time.

I grew up the oldest son of four siblings. My father, the man who gave me his name, is a terrible alcoholic. He abused me and my siblings, ran around on my mother and for years I’ve had to sober myself to the reality that he trades the best parts of his humanity for whatever exists at the bottom of a Bud Light can.

I grew up in a small town. The kind of place that people don’t get out of, the kind of place that separates people from themselves, the kind of place that turns diamonds into coal. I’ve watched friends and family fade away from diseases of despair. Overdoses. Self-inflicted gunshot wounds. In my adult life I’ve experienced grief so overwhelming, pain so horrible that drove me so deep inside of myself, that there was a good chance I wouldn’t ever come out.

I’m not sure I would have found a voice in this world had it not been for my professors. People like Peter Markus and Alison Powell and Garry and Holly Gilbert and so many others. They extended a hand to me when I needed it most, they said “Hey kid, this is what you’re meant to do.” Not because I asked them. Not because they knew my life or what I’d been through. They did it because that’s just what professors do. I do not have words capable of expressing the depths of my gratitude.

For many of us, living through COVID-19 has been the most difficult experience of our lifetimes. And when us students were down the most, what did our professors do? They spent a year with us. They hooked up a webcam for the first time and brought us into their homes. They showed us their humanity and their grace. I mean how could I not see it watching Alison Powell scoop up her kids and take them out of frame, watching Kevin Grimm and Megan Peiser shoo away or hush some of the cutest dogs I’ve ever seen. They were there for us when it mattered, and just look at how they’re being repaid.

I read the letters. I see and feel their pain. I know how hard it is to speak out as an employee, the kind of dismay our faculty must feel to have to write these letters and argue to be treated with respect — argue and fight to be treated with dignity by an administration that stands on their shoulders, that owes them everything. 

I feel that pain. I see what’s happening and I wonder how this can be. What, all of this because we’ve got administrators with a hard on for union busting? Because we’ve got a Chair of the Board of Trustees (BOT) who made his career cuddling up to some of the worst people in the history of Michigan’s politics, who was appointed to the BOT by a governor charged with crimes against the innocent people of Flint? 

Administrators who don’t even have enough respect for the student body to sign their names when they send out disingenuous communications to chastise faculty. Administrators who don’t have enough respect for their faculty or the student body to get their asses to the bargaining table and negotiate a deal so the school year can start on time. Administrators who hide in the dark, behind their hired guns, behind the bureaucracy they’ve instituted to protect themselves, behind their employees. All the while professors attach their names and their faces to every word they speak publicly on these negotiations. They stand behind their words and risk retaliation because that’s what leaders do.

I can say confidently that I know what our faculty are made of. They’ve shown their hearts to me, even if it was just over Zoom. I’ve looked into their eyes, I know that they cut and bleed the same way that I do. As far as these administrators go, your guess is as good as mine. I couldn’t tell you their motives and they won’t come out of the dark to speak for themselves. 

While it is beyond me to ascribe motive to any administrator, I will say this — if you aren’t coming to the negotiating table with protecting the sanctity of this institution and providing the absolute best education possible for the students who pay thousands of dollars to come here as your number-one priority, then you’ve got no business being at the table. 

I’ve got no use for businessmen with political agendas. Not in my personal life and damn sure not at the place where I go to school. No use for people who treat negotiations like a game, people who take food off of hard working people’s tables, who use their power to stand over other people and dictate to them what they’re worth. That’s not leadership. Leadership requires humanity. Leadership is looking at someone who is down and extending your hand and saying, “Hey, you can do better. Let me show you.” Leadership is what our professors do. 

If you want to play hardball with people’s lives, you’re in luck, in present-day America there’s plenty of places for you. I’m sure there’s a for-profit prison that could use your skill set, I’m sure Jeff Bezos could use your help suicide-proofing his warehouses. Sadly though, I must inform you that we’ve got no use for you at this university. 

So if you aren’t those kind of administrators, if you care about this university and the campus community, then you’ll straighten up, fly right, do your job and get a deal on the table that isn’t a disgrace to OU.


Jeff Thomas

Senior, English Major