Photo courtesy of Richard Williamson
During my four years at Oakland University, I practically lived at Varner Hall—named for OU’s first President, Woody Varner. Varner Hall was the center of my college experience because that’s where my professors and fellow students were. It’s where, during class, my professors encouraged my passions and taught me to think deeply and critically as a student and citizen. It’s where, during office hours, my professors made time to give me academic, professional, and sometimes personal support. All of which is precisely what Woody Varner envisioned for Oakland University when he created the university with Matilda Dodge Wilson: a place centered around faculty and their students.
I was in Varner Hall with a professor on my first day at OU. A first generation college student with no connections to Oakland, I was nervous when I ask a question about class. My professor welcomed me into the university community and put me at ease. I was in Varner Hall with a professor on my very last day at OU. I walked into her office, sat down, and started crying—overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, and excitement. My professor listened and offered yet more guidance after my education at Oakland was complete and my time as her student was done.
Every day of every year, OU’s faculty lives up to Woody Varner’s vision through actions like these. They work hard—in research, in classrooms, and in extracurricular organizations—to provide students with the best learning conditions and promote Oakland University in the broader community.
Now, Oakland University’s faculty are trying to negotiate a fair contract so they can continue providing students with the support and education they provided me and others. What they want is the same thing we all want from our jobs. After two academic years of pandemic and drastic changes in learning and teaching, Oakland University faculty have a right to adequate health insurance, pay, and work protections. OU faculty are passionate about their work and their students and they deserve to be valued and compensated for the essential function they play for the university. Their students recognize that. OU students recognize that their learning conditions are inextricably linked to faculty working conditions.
It is well past time Oakland University’s current President, Board of Trustees, and administrators recognize this too. They need to abandon the current commitment to bloated administrative budgets and vanity projects paid for with student tuition increases and faculty pay cuts that serve neither students nor faculty. It is well past time they commit themselves to Woody Varner’s vision of a university centered around professors and their students.