Confidential sources have shared two communications from inside Wright State this week. The first is a fantasy feel-good message from Dr. Hopkins, crafted by some PR person wearing rose-colored glasses, who thinks that with proper phrasing, lipstick on a pig makes sense.
The second is a response from the faculty union (American Association of University Professors), suggesting that if you stop hiring retired congressmen, lobbyists, children of the board of directors, and creating more titles and titular heads of imaginary positions, there might be hope. Oh, and don’t spend a quarter-million on a logo with a Florida firm, or keep thinking college athletics are important to anyone- other than a few donors and a president who has an advanced degree in gym.
Read them and weep. If I were grading papers, the president would get a C- and the faculty union- an A+
Weekly message from WSU President Hopkins
Together, over the last decade, we have had unprecedented success in building a new model of a 21st century public research university more relevant to the needs of the students and communities we serve. Our focus has always been on providing an affordable, high-quality education and building a diverse and inclusive welcoming community. We are using the expertise of our faculty and staff, along with the energy of our students, to engage with our communities to solve real social problems and growing the economy and quality of life throughout our region. At the very heart of everything we have done is our commitment to meet our diverse student population “where they are” academically, financially, and experientially to propel their success. We captured the essence of our decade-long transformation by our intention to be the “Best University FOR the World.”
Along this journey, we have faced formidable financial challenges. In 2008, the Great Recession exacerbated the already-20-year-long erosion of state support for public higher education. To address the challenges we faced in 2008, we strategically utilized our reserves to smooth the impact on our people and campus and to continue investing in strategic initiatives, many designed to grow alternative revenue streams in order to lessen our reliance on state support for operating dollars. It was apparent that we must be more in control of our own destiny in this “New Normal” of public higher education.
In 2010, we needed to restructure our base budget to align with the new realities of projected revenues. In my email to campus in the spring of 2009, I referred to our challenge as a “Nut to Crack.” We initiated a campus process that included a 5 percent reduction exercise given to all Vice Presidents and Deans. The purpose of the exercise was to insure that we were spending our resources on the priorities of the 2008 Strategic Plan (“Relentless”). A set of guiding principles was developed for the process, and ideas for reduction and new revenue generation were elicited from throughout our campus. Ultimately, the “Nut” was defined (approximately 4 percent of our base budget), and each Vice President and Dean was given a reduction target ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent, depending on unit performance trends. Using multiple tools, we reset our base budget in 2010 with the overall goal of emerging stronger as an institution.
With the help of an improving economy, a surge in enrollment growth from the impact of the Great Recession, and federal support through the American Recovery Act, we emerged in 2011 with one of the strongest financial years in our history. This allowed us to renew our reserves and accelerate our investment in a variety of initiatives, many to diversify our revenue streams. The following is a brief list of examples:
- Student Success Support (Student Success Center, Veterans, LGBTQ, International and others)
- Fundraising and Alumni Engagement (Rise. Shine. Campaign)
- Applied Research and Business/Industry Engagement (WSRI, WSARC, Commercialization)
- Branding/Marketing (address a highly competitive market and grow our national visibility)
- State-designated Centers of Excellence (focus on CELIA, Neuroscience and Human Innovation)
From 2013 to today, we have faced another round of reduced state support. It has come in the form of reduced SSI, capital, research challenge, Ohio College Opportunity Grants (OGOG), and mandated tuition constraints. We have taken the opportunity to share these challenges with the Faculty Senate and Staff Council multiple times over the last three years. Once again, we have strategically utilized our reserves to smooth the impact on our people and campus and continue investing in key strategic initiatives. At the beginning of fall 2015, it was clear with the mandated zero percent tuition increase for FY16 and FY17, projected flat SSI support, modest enrollment growth, and a sporadic economy, that we, once again, had a “Nut to Crack” in our base budget.
Initially, in the fall of 2015, we instituted a four-pronged approach to whittle away at the “Nut.” This involved
- more discipline in strategic hiring;
- improved central oversight to control overspending;
- better capital project oversight; and
- improved space utilization.
On November 20, 2015, we met with the Faculty Budget Oversight Committee in a three-hour meeting to share the trend data and the financial challenges we were facing. On January 22, 2016, in the public Board of Trustees Finance Committee, we discussed the framework for a budget remediation plan. On February 12, I announced at the public Board of Trustees meeting that Provost Sudkamp and VP for Business and Finance Jeff Ulliman were being charged to develop a campus-wide budget remediation plan by soliciting input from all campus constituents and that we would share the plan and all its details with the campus community during our annual Budget Workshop on June 2, 2016.
I reiterated this approach with the Faculty Senate during the March 14 meeting, and Provost Sudkamp reminded everyone about the importance of maintaining our focus on the upcoming March 21-22 HLC visit. Following the HLC visit, we initiated our campus process by meeting with Faculty Senate Leadership on March 30 to discuss guiding principles and the details of a process to strengthen our budget.
The following principles will guide the development and implementation of our plan:
- Must be people-friendly and preserve salaries and benefits as much as possible.
- Must support the ongoing quality of WSU’s academic enterprise and support student success.
- Must preserve and expand sources of revenue.
- Should not result in indiscriminate hiring freezes or elimination of strategic investments.
- The plan cannot call for across-the-board cuts but instead must focus on targeted reductions.
- It should retain flexibility but eliminate duplication of efforts across units.
- It should maintain best practices of business services, and it must honor a culture of compliance and stewardship.
We met on March 31 with Vice Presidents and Deans to discuss the process, provide trend data, and initiate a reduction exercise, just as we had in 2010. They were assigned an 8 percent reduction target for the exercise as we continued to identify more precisely our “Nut.” They were asked to respond to the following questions:
- How would you reduce your unit’s 2016 base budget by 8 percent?
- What initiatives and projects will create additional revenue in the next two years?
- What suggestions do you have to enhance collaboration with other units or to reduce duplication to improve efficiency in providing services?
On April 5, we met with Staff Council and on April 6 with the combined Faculty Senate Executive Committee and Budget Oversight Committee to discuss principles and process and solicited their help in responding to questions #2 and #3 from above. We have asked for feedback on these questions from faculty and staff by Monday, April 18.
Later today, we will meet with our Cabinet and Deans’ Council to discuss the projected “Nut,” responses to questions posed, and provide unit targets to restructure our base budget over the next two fiscal years (FY17 and FY18).
Based on projected revenue and one-time expenditures, our “Nut” is approximately 6 percent (our exercise was 8 percent) of our base budget, not substantially different from the 4 percent we took on in 2010. However, we will reduce this challenge over a two-year period (FY17: 4 percent, and FY18: 2 percent), not losing sight of our need to explore all opportunities of our top principle of being people-friendly. In addition, we will engage in a number of one-time strategies to replenish our reserves in the next year. This will be discussed on June 2.
While we have kept our faculty and staff representatives up-to-date over the last year, we now want to share the challenge more broadly to get your ideas and suggestions. As we did in 2010, the final solution to cracking our present-day “Nut” will reflect the unique roles of our entire Wright State University family: faculty, staff, students, and our larger community.
I want to thank the faculty and staff who have already responded to our request for ideas on how we might best address these financial times and maintain our momentum. With your help, our leadership team will craft a plan to help navigate through this “New Normal” time for public research universities.
As we have done before, we will keep our focus on our core mission and our unwavering commitment to provide an affordable, high-quality education for those with potential and the drive to succeed.
David R. Hopkins
And the rebuttal:
To President David Hopkins and the Wright State University Board of Trustees:
In light of what has been happening at our University, the weekly e-mails we receive from President Hopkins paint a picture that bears little resemblance to reality. The former Provost has been on paid leave for nearly a year. Now we are told there is a major budget crisis. Yet, thus far and in typical fashion, the administration has directed the deans to plan for an 8% budget cut but otherwise has not shared any substantive information.
If the administration had bothered to share financial information in a meaningful way, perhaps the alleged crisis could have been averted. Instead, the administration spent years talking about budgetary transparency and MDA (and our magnificent salt barn!) All the while, apparently none of the extraordinarily well-paid administrators was minding the store and the Board was paying no attention. Year after year, now-departed Vice President Polatajko delivered a dog and pony show in his annual budgetary presentation to the Board, reported that we were spending money on new initiatives, and gave no hint that a budgetary storm was coming. What has been the return, monetary or otherwise, on our new initiatives? Apparently, not enough to offset the supposed financial crisis that has prompted the administration to ask the Deans to submit plans for 8% cuts in their colleges.
Several million dollars have been budgeted on a branding campaign. The administration disseminated a new logo, realized it looked like the logo for a local recycling company, and withdrew it. Of course, branding is supposed to be about more than just a logo. But have there been any tangible returns on our investment? We are confident that Wright State’s reputation is at a long-time low, branding campaign notwithstanding.
Millions have been spent on a consultant, and that in turn prompted the Ohio Speaker of the House — one of our alumni no less — to announce publicly that House members should use caution when dealing with Wright State. Clearly there were negative returns for that expenditure.
Millions are spent subsidizing intercollegiate athletics, when there is no evidence that students come to Wright State for athletics. In fact, in a recent survey, playing sports was the least significant reported factor in recruitment of students. Of course, the real test would be to ask our students whether they would rather have their tuition decreased by $500 a year or keep intercollegiate athletics. Meanwhile, the administration routinely allows intercollegiate athletics to overrun its already swollen budget. If that is not bad enough, a million dollars was spent building a football field so that a few male students would have a fancy venue for their games when 58% of our students are female. To top it off, the Athletic Director was allowed to fire the men’s basketball coach, who had two years left on his contract. So now we will be paying someone else for two years for doing absolutely nothing!
Millions have been spent on stipends, which is not surprising since WSU has over thirty individuals whose title includes president or provost (e.g., vice president, associate provost) and over forty whose title includes dean, many receiving stipends in addition to their base salaries. Why do we need so many administrators, and why do many of these individuals receive stipends when they are already among the highest paid employees at the University?
The administration and the board have taken on a multimillion dollar liability to hold a presidential debate at Wright State. If the massive funding needed does not materialize, how many employees will have to be furloughed? How many students won’t be able to take the classes they need to graduate?
Meanwhile, faculty and students — the heart of the university — suffer the consequences for these gross failures of leadership. Even more troubling than the firing of the basketball coach, the former provost sits at home collecting a very substantial salary, and we still don’t know whether the reasons for his suspension are only apparent misdeeds, or will actually be subject to prosecution as federal felonies, or something in between. All the while we raise tuition, and our students go deeper and deeper into debt. We admit students who we know have virtually no chance of academic success but take their money anyway, while offering almost no need-based scholarships. Our most distinguished faculty are awarded modest raises and ordered to stop printing handouts that might help those students.
It is time to come clean with the University community before we are forced to redesign our logo again to show the Wright Flyer crashing into the ground.
Very soon, you will receive recommendations from us regarding cuts in expenditures that can be made without imperiling the academic core of the University.
But in the meantime, we have questions.
Who is responsible for the alleged financial crisis, and will anyone be held accountable? What is its real magnitude? What are its causes? Is the alleged shortfall due to overly optimistic estimates of revenue, or is it simply the result of out of control expenses?
Even if the reported financial problems are due in part to continuing reductions in state support, why have the problems been allowed to accumulate to the point where planning for an 8% reduction in the college budgets is suddenly necessary?
How much has Wright State spent investigating the H-1B visa scandal? The investigation by the administration has dragged on for more than a year while the University’s reputation has been dragged through the mud.
Why is Wright State one of only two state universities whose audits for 2015 have yet to be posted on the Ohio Auditor’s website?
Where are the Trustees? Has the Board exercised its fiduciary responsibility at all? How many Board members have benefited from the issuance of H1-B visas or nepotism?
What is going on at WSRI? We keep seeing statements about the millions in research dollars that WSRI and our consultants are bringing into the University, and yet our Carnegie ranking has dropped and each year the University continues to provide millions of dollars to subsidize WSRI.
And to repeat questions we raised above: What returns have we realized from our new initiatives? From the branding campaign? From our expenditures on consultants? From millions poured into intercollegiate athletics? And why does WSU have so many administrators, and of them why do so many receive stipends in addition to their salaries?
The faculty demands transparency and accountability, now.
On Behalf of the AAUP-WSU Executive Committee
It’s time to replace the Board, let Hopkins retire, fire the provost, and bring in professional managers. If the state of Ohio can come in and take over the Dayton Public Schools for poor performance, it should be able to take over a university that’s lost touch with reality.