Letter to the editor: The Problem of Faculty Resignations at Oakland

The AAUP has been deeply concerned about problems with faculty morale over the past two years.  We have tracked a number of resignations and retirements that seem to confirm this sense.  In an effort to better understand what provokes faculty to stop working at Oakland, we have surveyed those leaving the institution. The results are disturbing.

The OU AAUP Faculty Exit Survey was sent to 31 faculty and we received 21 responses.  We identified our pool by gathering information about faculty departures from our members (including department chairpersons).  The survey asked basic demographic questions and a series of questions about academic unit and university experiences.  It concluded with an open-ended comment section.

We have received responses from 21 faculty who chose to leave the university this year.  This group represents faculty across the university, and is roughly representative of the larger distribution of faculty across the units.  The vast majority, 75%, were resignations, not retirements.

The profile of those leaving reveals the potential for a long-term, negative impact on Oakland’s ability to deliver programs.  Faculty in the tenure-stream provide the university with academic continuity, and yet 75% of those leaving were in this group.  Their age profile is also disturbing, with 60% falling between 30 and 49 years of age–this period typically marks the most stationary part of an academic life.  This does not bode well for the continuity of academic programs and research trajectories emanating from Oakland.

The survey permitted respondents to comment on their experiences at the university; some of these comments reinforced concerns that were raised by the statistical data.

  • I cannot emphasize enough the unreasonableness in service expectations that has come about the past five years. It is committee after committee and after committee formation. Mind you, the chair has been wonderful in terms of setting direction and moving programs forward, but the expectation of 8 to 10 committees or working groups is too much. If this was not occurring, I probably would not have been on the job market so soon.
  • I attended the leadership academy this year. While the facilitators were excellent, my primary take away from exposure to OU’s leaders is that complete availability and erosion of boundaries was an expectation. While I genuinely loved my work here, I determined I was unwilling to continue down that road. My decision was also influenced by the University’s disregard for pandemic conditions.
  • The university needs to keep students’ issues at the forefront; OU is not meeting the needs of its populations.
  • The main reason I went on the job market was due to the accumulation of stress within my department. We have been engaging in a number of program redesign initiatives, accreditation initiatives, along with unreasonable expectations of service. There is very little protection of junior faculty members’ time and very little care and concern about work-life balance.
  • Lack of understanding and connection on the part of the Board of Trustees as to what we do as faculty, and the trajectory as to where issues such as salary and benefits may be headed in the future. Similar sentiment regarding working conditions, support, and research dollars.

This data should not be dismissed as the opinion of a few malcontents.  It marks a shift in faculty morale over the past several years that has important long-term consequences for the health of the university.  When young, talented, and energetic faculty leave the university, they take their leadership skills with them.  They will not be here to help develop new programs, or to maintain larger research initiatives.  The success of the university so far has been built on our ability to attract talented faculty and keep them for their entire careers.

If Oakland is going to become “a university of choice” it must identify problems facing the faculty and attempt to resolve them.  And yet, the university has failed to even ask faculty why they leave.

The AAUP wants to understand why our faculty leave Oakland; that way we can improve the working environment for those who remain.  We are happy to discuss possible remedies to the university’s problems.


Karen A.J. Miller, President, OU-AAUP (AFT)