Unfinished business

Tenured history professor declines buyout offer presented by Chancellor last spring

More stories from Colette St. John

December 13, 2016



After Chancellor James C. Schmidt raised the idea of buyouts last March, 115 professors expressed interest in accepting the offer.

This one-time incentive worked to encourage professors to accept a half-year’s pay and in return, resign from the university. The buyout is meant to target those nearing retirement at the age of 55 or older — tenured professors whom are paid more.

Of those potentials, professor Oberly of the history department decided against the offer and chose to stay after all, feeling as though his work with UW-Eau Claire is not yet complete.

Along with 33 years of teaching students under his belt, Oberly is now conducting two student research projects in Hungary and Germany, overseeing the senior history seminar and finishing up writing a book about the history of university projected for completion this May.

“The things I’m doing with students are still pretty important and the incentive was not that great, frankly,” Oberly said. “It was much less than other universities in the same position. I’d rather continue what I’m doing at Eau Claire, which I enjoy doing.”

Expressing his passion for the students and university as a whole, Oberly didn’t see the logic in leaving quite yet due to the importance of his work.

With a combination of personal reasons, low financial incentives and enjoying the profession, Oberly said only 15 took the buyout option to accompany the faculty let-go last spring.

“I think the morale is low because of the budget cuts and one of the consequences is the way we are dealing with the budget cuts is to encourage people early and that’s sad,” said Oberly.

A senior history major, Trace Osborn has not only taken classes with Oberly, but has also embarked on research trips with him as well. Having previously gone on the Central European travel seminar, a four-week history trip, he was interested in attending another when Oberly presented him with the opportunity.

With a heavy project emphasis on census data collection from the Royal Hungarian Central Statistical Office, the Central European Travel Seminar will encompass multiple European countries, with a central focus on Budapest, Hungary over the winter break.

After spending vast amount of time with professor Oberly, Osborn couldn’t imagine a campus without his passion and talent.

“He is one of the most intelligent people anyone will ever meet and he is dedicated to helping get students like myself opportunities like this that most people never get a chance to do,” said Osborn. “I would have been extremely disappointed if Dr. Oberly had taken the buyout option.”

Senior Sarah McKlveen has taken a total of four courses with Oberly and plans to attend the upcoming research trip as well.

Accrediting his teaching methods and general presence on campus to the reasoning for the many learning research trips and opportunities she has been given as well as the passion she has for history that she will eventually go on to teach others about.

“I was actually upset when I heard that he almost took the buyout from the university,” McKlveen said. “He has made a huge impact on the way I look at history… and showed that all other disciplines can be incorporated as well.”

As the semester continues and the amount of course sections available to take in the spring decrease, professors such as Oberly are working to maintain educational standards and overall attitudes.

“Oberly is one of those few professors who is actually interested in getting his students interested in all areas of history,” McKlveen said. “He cares that his students actually learn something from the course.”