How to pull Wright State back from the self-inflicted sinking

Warning. This is a Too Long/Didn’t Read post (TL/DR). It’s a story in 3 acts. The first 2 happened, aptly, on Pearl Harbor day. The first, has Wright State shooting itself in the foot once again. The Second act is Dr. No’s speech to the faculty senate. The third act, is written in the future, looking back at how Wright State picked itself up from the bottom of the swamp, thanks to competent marketing and positioning proposed, yet ignored by Edwards, and the last 3 presidents before her. Sample refused to interact. This plan began in 2007, when a much younger me (David Esrati) believed that President David Hopkins was actually interested in properly positioning Wright State. Instead- we have “Raider Country” and are still relying on puns based on “wright/right” which is something only a marketing dotard would use. Read it all at your own risk. If you skip to the future- realize that these ideas still require implementation by the competent. So, no shipping off the new identity to Idaho, or Philly- or the local payola agencies. Maybe it’s time Wright State actually turned to one of it’s own grads. Good luck.

The only people who will read it are the people who are in the middle of the meat grinder. No one in Columbus cares- which is obvious due to the lack of prosecution for the lost $130M or the incredible conflicts of trustees, new and old, and how one person, seems to be untouchable, yet sits in the middle of every cesspool over the last 7 years. Even the H1B visa scandal, which would normally land some folks in jail- or at least banished from being on the board, seems to be ignored. The FBI managed to prosecute Joey Williams and RoShawn Winburn for public corruption totaling less than $100,000 and we have Greg Sample- the engineer of the criminally conceived Double Bowler Enterprises rising in power and stature to be the COO and the defacto dictator at Wright State. He was hire illegally, he’s been promoted without postings, and now, sits in shit and slings sewage in all directions. Between him, and Dr Susan Edwards you have the two least competent people the State could choose to take over and run a university that has suffered near fatal self-inflicted stab wounds one after another.

At this point, the State would be smart to hand over the reins at Wright State to the Clark State President, Dr. Jo Blondin, or look to hire UD President Emeritus Dan Curran to try to bring the school back from the dead. Blondin has managed to increase enrollment during Covid- and project a cool confidence throughout the pandemic. Edwards and Sample have sabotaged the university at every turn.

What brings on this post is the “[OFFICIAL-L] Wright State Faculty Reduction Process Update” email sent out by the comms office on Monday Dec 7, a day that will live in infamy once again. While I’d normally not include the entire email- or just post it as a link- this has to be easily available as evidence- and in context. I’ve selected and highlighted the paragraphs that are absolute grounds for firing someone who shouldn’t be getting paid to do communications.

Self-inflicted Hari Kari

On November 12, Wright State University announced, in its continuing efforts to preserve its ability to offer an affordable, high-quality public education to the Dayton region, that the university would commence the process for anticipated bargaining unit faculty workforce reductions, called “retrenchment” under the university’s applicable collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) with the faculty union.

Wright State is following the process and complying with obligations specifically outlined and mutually agreed to in Article 17 of the CBA:

In brief, the retrenchment process proceeds as follows:

  1. The university cites the circumstance for anticipating the need to retrench faculty members. In this case, the university’s November 12 notice stated that faculty workforce reductions are anticipated as a result of a significant reduction in enrollment over at least four semesters that is expected to persist.
  2. The university and the union form a joint retrenchment committee of administration and union representatives to provide recommendations to President Sue Edwards regarding the retrenchment process. Following the announcement, the university received numerous information requests from AAUP-WSU, to which the university promptly responded with a significant amount of data and information pertaining to the anticipated retrenchment. At this time, the university and AAUP-WSU have identified their three respective representatives who will comprise the six-person committee, which met on Monday, December 7 for the first time. The joint committee has 60 days to develop and submit its recommendations. Concurrently, interim Provost Douglas Leaman is working with the college deans to develop a plan that supports the future direction of the university.
  3. Both the joint committee and the interim provost will present retrenchment recommendations to the president for consideration.
  4. The president, after considering the recommendations, will present an administration retrenchment plan to the Wright State Board of Trustees for consideration and potential approval.

Though this process has been agreed upon in multiple CBA’s between the university and AAUP-WSU, it has not been invoked previously, and it is important that we, as a university and as a public institution, address it in a professional manner.

Unfortunately, some from our campus community have attempted to unnecessarily create fear and panic within a variety of constituencies, most notably among Wright State’s students and alumni, without even giving the mutually agreed upon process a chance to begin. This is reprehensible and, in the end, runs the risk of further exacerbating the university’s already declining enrollment—the very impetus for these anticipated bargaining unit faculty reductions.

The following is being shared in an effort to clarify and correct a few of the more glaring inaccuracies and misinformation we have seen to date:

  • Retrenchment has been referred to as an “extreme action.” Rather, it is the mutually agreed-upon process in the CBA recognized and approved by the AAUP membership. Very logically, it outlines a process the university uses to reduce its number of faculty when enrollments decline significantly over an extended period of time and is anticipated to continue. Similar retrenchment clauses exist in collective bargaining agreements at many universities with unionized faculty across the country.
  • Some have asserted that one “cannot trust the numbers” offered by the university. However, the university’s enrollment is publicly tracked and submitted to the State of Ohio and the federal government.
  • Some have suggested that the university is “likely using the Covid-19 pandemic as justification for making cuts to faculty; in other words, like many universities across the nation, they are taking advantage of a public health crisis to justify getting rid of unionized faculty they would not normally be able to fire.” Again, this is false. The university’s enrollment declines long pre-dated COVID-19.
  • Statements that “instead of working with faculty to come up with imaginative solutions to recruit and retain students, they [the university leaders] have decided to fire faculty,” and “they have decided that fewer faculty is the only answer” are false. In reality, the university’s previous initiatives have included several rounds of workforce reductions that affected university staff and administrators, and which did not extend at all to the unionized faculty. Additionally, the university has attempted to adjust its faculty size through normal attrition, leaving open positions vacant, and offering voluntary early retirement incentives.
  • Assertions that “AAUP-WSU has continuously tried to collaborate with the administration during periods of financial hardship” are inaccurate. The reality is that the union has declined multiple opportunities to work constructively with the university. Last spring and summer, for example, the administration repeatedly asked the AAUP-WSU leadership to meet and negotiate modifications to the CBA. Those requests were repeatedly refused. Subsequent proposals to meet informally to discuss options and alternatives were also rejected.
  • Finally, cuts to administrative positions have occurred over the past several academic years. Wright State has and is expected to have fewer students and must continue to focus on sizing its academic operations accordingly.

While the above inaccuracies are disappointing in and of themselves, most appalling is an attempt to entangle students in a mutually agreed-upon contractual process in a manner that runs the risk of ultimately driving away current and prospective students. An AAUP-WSU FAQ recently claimed that: “Even if your program remains in existence, as the administration promises, reduced numbers of faculty will result in substantially fewer available courses, or your required courses may be offered less frequently. This will inevitably increase the cost of your education by lengthening the time required for many of you to complete your programs of study and graduate.”

This is a baseless and categorically untrue statement. The university has always prioritized, and will always prioritize, a commitment to our students, and there is no reason to believe that faculty retrenchment will prolong the time it takes to earn a degree at this institution, or that retrenchment will cause the cost of a degree from this institution to increase.

Wright State University is essential to the success of our region. The significant majority of our graduates remain here in the Miami Valley contributing to the success of the businesses, organizations, and communities in which they live and work. Our commitment to preserving access to a locally available, affordable, high-quality public education remains our utmost priority.

Let’s examine how functioning universities work. Front line workers, professors, interact with students, in order to advance students skills so that they can become better members of society. If society was a car, and universities are where you go to soup it up, professors are the tools that make the car better. All the buildings, the administration, the support staff, exist to bring students and professors together to interact. The professors are what make a university. Edwards and Sample clearly think they make the university- and will sell off their tools and continue to pretend that they have any skills at all.

The same day this missive/missile went out, the Faculty Senate met, virtually of course. Edwards got to say her piece, unfettered and unedited. But, when one of the smartest people in the room (and the University) got to speak, she got cut off and shut up I’ve got the full text of Doctor No’s speech for the public to see the clear and unvarnished story of why Wright State is in need of a serious intervention if it is to succeed. Dr. Noeleen McIlvenna is a political scientist/historian. She understands conflict and statesmanship. If I was looking for someone to guide a revolutionary evolution of Wright State- you’d want her on your team. She is the kind of faculty that students search out and pay good money to learn from. If everyone at Wright State was cut from the same cloth, they wouldn’t need any marketing help.

Dr. No to the Rescue

President Edwards,

I have just completed the first mtg of Committee on Retrenchment. We met to discuss Retrenchment despite these current conditions at WSU:

The University is operating without a functional Strategic Plan. We have no clear mission, no vision, no plan, no strategy. Yet the administration is about to make the hugest of decisions— laying off faculty who carry out the basic mission of all universities, teaching and research—- with no design wherefore or why.

In the last year, let me remind everyone in case you got dizzy, we have seen the departures from University Hall of: President Schrader, VP for Finance  Branson, General Counsel Chan, CIO Craig Woolley, Matt Boaz and Lindsey Wight, Paul Carney and his replacement enrollment manager, VP for Faculty Cheryl Meyer, and head of WSARC, Dennis Andersh. The search for a VP for Research failed so that job is also empty. We have an Interim Dean of the Grad School. We have a President who arrived on campus just two years ago. We know Interim Provost Leaman just had his interview with Central Michigan Uni, so he is ready to slash and dash. We have three new Trustees. In this absolute chaos of completely inexperienced leadership, we are making the hugest of decisions.

Two school years ago we endured the longest strike in the history of higher ed in Ohio. This past and current academic year, we are in the midst of a pandemic. They use those years as a model from which to predict our future. Based on those two once in a lifetime factors, we are to remake our University.

We are supposed to make this decision based on dropping enrollment, despite the fact that we are on our fourth enrollment manager in two years. And when we asked for the Enrollment Management Plan, we were told it was a secret. That’s a quote. Yes, people in the back, you heard that correctly: the Committee is asked to make recommendations about falling enrollment that is “expected to persist” but the administration has declared their plan for future enrollment must be kept secret from us.

In what type of brain is this a good idea? In what kind of organization, public or private, would this be considered sensible? To no one who has the best interest of this institution at heart does this seem like good management. But for those who hate tenure, and who have tried since mid 2017 to get rid of it, who hate not having complete power over their employees, this was a moment of opportunity, an opportunity to reimagine a University that’s flexible and nimble. (Administrators and Trustees across the nation from Colorado to Vermont are now sharing the verbiage of Trustee Fecher.) ie a workforce that is contingent, totally at the mercy of the bosses, subject to firing at whim. Because of the chilling effect, there will be no one left who feels safe enough in their livelihood to call attention to management’s endless screwups: their illegal hiring of Greg Sample, our COO, and of Dennis Andersh, eternally defended by Trustees and  administrators but who is now claiming 5 million dollars worth of WSU assets for his private company;  their multi million student-tuition-dollar drain hole called Double Bowler (based, you’ll recall, on enrollment that was projected to go eternally upward), and their WSARC and their stupid branding campaign, their quarter-million-dollar history book, their cancelled Presidential debate and their Ron Wine receipt on a scrap of paper, their Dept of Education fines and their troubles with the Ohio Ethics Commission, their failed Strategic Planning —  nor to point out their extraordinary pay checks plus bonuses, never mind their “car phones” and country club memberships.

Retrenchment is what the Trustees want. Covid is a blessing to them — they may retrench 1/3 of the faculty and replace them eventually with adjunct or NTE faculty who can then lose their job every five years. And they will do so knowing no one will ever feel secure enough to draw attention to their incompetence and malfeasance again.

They have been consistent with their principles, you can say that for them. But they need our administrative tenured faculty to carry it out. And what happens to our profession if they cooperate? What happens to academic freedom in this reimagined University? What happens to the protection of truth, of science? Professors become like the scientists in the tobacco companies, or federal employees at the EPA: silenced from researching or teaching or telling the public anything the boss doesn’t approve. That is what you are cooperating with, Pres Edwards and Provost Leaman. That’s your choice, that’s your shame and that will be your legacy.  Everyone should understand that’s  why they pay half a million dollars a year to someone who was a dept chair 5 yrs ago. (Pres Edwards may get an extra 125K this year if she fulfill the goals the Trustees set for her, goals which we also told are secret!) So she will cooperate with this.

Deans Rigling, Traynor, Caron, Kiefrel, Engisch and Ulrich: there can be no more deluding yourselves. You know 10 K is an imaginary number, like -11 million was in May. We have at least 12,000 students now, with Covid and a 250 K  marketing budget. For the next two years, we will have no Covid and 10x the marketing budget.  Now you have to choose how you, too, will be remembered: — as a scholar and a teacher who made a stand for tenure and academic freedom, or as a coward who assisted, who turned in the Retrenchment list— the one who named names. That will be on you.

My question is in fact, on behalf of my administrative faculty constituents, for as a Senator I represent them too: if we were idiotic enough to accept your statistical extrapolations on the Retrenchment announcement, (there are no covariates!!) we should approach an enrollment of zero in a few years. At what point on your chart will you depose and retrench Chairs and Deans? At what point, President Edwards, will you sell out even your loyal obedient followers? I think my administrative constituents should hear it from you.

We have a university that claims to have a secret enrollment management plan, yet, is undermining it by claiming to be mortally wounded. None of this computes. That they hired a petrified University of Dayton enrollment manager to run recruitment and marketing- and he was gone in less than 6 months should clearly show that this rudderless, sunken ship has no captain worth retaining.

The plan for Wright State- how a real ad agency approaches a total turnaround.

I graduated from Wright State in 1988 with a degree in marketing. I can’t say that I learned a lot there, but I can say that I did learn a lot about how dysfunctional organizations work. There were two things going for Wright State back then- Dr.Jerrold S. Petrofsky and his attempt at computer assisted exoskeletons driven by electro-stimulation of muscles for paraplegics- and a SCUBA program run by Dan Orr. Turns out Petrofsky was a bit of a fraud and involved in some questionable relationships- but, he did attract a huge number of physically challenged students. Orr, was a genuine giant in the world of SCUBA- and yet, Dr. Paige Muhollan decided that a world renown leader without a PhD or “terminal degree” in their field of study wasn’t worth keeping at Wright State- and he fired Dan. I also couldn’t convince the guy who arrived on campus to build the Nutter Center to at least put cooling track and leave room for compressors to put a rink in at a later date. Tom Oddy told me they’d bring in portable ice. What would have been a $50K investment at the time of construction- later turned into a $2M bill many years later. I was active in Interclub council- and even received an award as a freshman, for starting the Raider Hockey club. All that, before I graduated and started The Next Wave, my award winning ad agency that has survived for 32 years despite my political hot potato status. I worked on campus turning around the fortune of the Dayton Wings and worked with 2 different ownership groups of the Dayton Bombers, once again putting me in the inside of the belly of the beast.

This plan could have been implemented 13 years ago- and Wright State might never have gone down the crazy train path of trying to be something it wasn’t meant to be, or what it has become now. Enjoy. And understand, that if any of this plan is considered for adoption, the university better be ready to pay for these ideas. They are actually worth something- unlike Greg Sample, Dr. Edwards or most of the Trustees. Enjoy.

When the student became the teacher and saved Wright State University

16 July 2022 Dayton Ohio.

It was in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 when news stories were being written about colleges “vulnerability scores” which predicted 10% to 20% of colleges could close in the next 12 months, primarily small private colleges and regional public schools.

Wright State had been reeling from a financial crisis, frequent changes in leadership, a visa scandal, and a faculty strike. A university that had been targeting enrollment at 20,000 a few years ago, was now talking about right-sizing at half that number. Programs and staff were being cut as well as pay. Students were grappling with the value of higher-ed that was more than likely to be delivered online thanks to lockdowns. The future was bleak.

What was worse, was the people in charge were operating in an echo chamber; the people who had survived the derailment were still in charge and not open to advice.

Unable to pitch his ideas to leadership, local ad agency owner, citizen journalist and political activist, David Esrati, who graduated from the school in 1988 with a degree in marketing made one last pitch to the governor, via a close friend he had developed over the years, Dr. Dan Curran, the President Emeritus of University of Dayton, aka the “competition.”

If there was one thing that had clouded the judgement of Wright State’s leadership was their constant aspiration to compete with the University of Dayton. Some saw the move to Division 1 sports and the building of the Nutter Center as the first evidence of this inferiority complex, by the time disgraced president David Hopkins left in 2017, the university had created entities meant to mimic and compete with UD’s very successful University of Dayton Research Institute by launching Wright State Applied Research Corporation and Wright State Research Institute. In fact, Curran had talked to Hopkins and told him, that this wasn’t a competition which seemed to hurt Hopkins’ feelings.

Esrati had a plan to totally reposition Wright State that he’d tried to sell to Hopkins in 2007 when he first arrived at WSU. And while Hopkins entertained Esrati over lunches at hole in the wall diners and lunch counters which Hopkins seemed to enjoy, he was being told by others to avoid Esrati. Hopkins did listen to one of Esrati’s suggestions, moving away from proprietary websites to Drupal, which is how the current head of marketing got brought on board. Hopkins also paid Esrati to do a re-write of the new mission and vision statement that had been crafted over 2 years by committee and read like it. For under $500 he got a re-write that Hopkins said he could use in speeches, but, couldn’t dare show to the people who’d slaved away at the original tortured language.

The part Hopkins loved was the reworked vision statement:


Wright State will be the “bicycle shop” for all who want to follow in the spirit of the Wright Brothers and change the world.”

Compared to the original-

“In the pioneering spirit of the Wright Brothers, Wright State will be Ohio’s most innovative university, known and admired for our diversity and for the transformational impact we have on the lives of our students and on the communities we serve.

Instead of creating an aspirational message for the customers, the mission was still focused on the university. It was clear, Hopkins was hunting for respect instead of results, and instead of listening to a renegade marketer, he drank from the “economic development” kool-aide well being peddled by the “Dayton Development Coalition.” As soon as Esrati heard the news that Hopkins had hired Jim Leftwich, he tried to warn Hopkins and was ignored. Turned out “Lefty” was working both sides of a deal and quickly sent packing, but the wheels had been set in motion for the downfall.

They say “politics make strange bedfellows” and nothing could better explain the situation when “I’m not a lobbyist” Ron Wine hires Esrati’s ad agency for a reputation management assignment. Wine had been turned into the scapegoat for the missing funds, when in fact, Hopkins and his henchmen fully knew what they were doing and kept signing the checks to Wine until the well ran dry and they had a house of cards to show for it. While building the case for what really happened at Wright State, Esrati found stories like this; trustee Doug Fecher (WPCU CEO) shoveling money into “Double Bowler,” an illegal shell corporation, in order to buy the Wright Patt Credit Union’s HQ without an appraisal so he could buy the old CSC building for WPCU’s new HQ from university donor Bob Mills. Sadly, the founding engineer of Double Bowler was Greg Sample, who has somehow avoided culpability and now is the number 2 man at Wright State. He’s made sure that Esrati was once again, shut out by the new president, Dr. Sue Edwards, who has described herself to university stakeholders as a “marine biologist masquerading as a university president.”

It was clear to Esrati as he watched the board of trustees argue about what direction to send Wright State, that none of these “business leaders” had a background or understanding of marketing. In one discussion about re-orienting the university to “STEM” they actively considered eliminating the college of liberal arts for ten minutes, until one trustee interrupted to point out that the college of liberal arts was not only the largest of all schools, but also the most profitable. Two university employees were tasked by President Schrader to forge a turnaround mission and vision statement, which again had no customer focus.

When Schrader left as the third president in the last three years, Esrati quickly reached out again to Edwards, only to be dressed down by Edwards that she’d heard from others that he was a person who tears others down,  instead of her style of building things up. She even claimed that Dr. Curran had warned her too.

With no one left to turn to with his presentation, he worked with Curran to refine his plan to slip to Lt. Governor Jon Husted. Curran, who had laughed Sample out of his office when he’d come calling with the same kind of hairbrained scheme for UD, listened and helped him refine his pitch. It went to Husted, who shared it with Governor DeWine, and then the chancellor. They invited Esrati to present via a skype meeting at the beginning of August 2020- as the university was still trying to figure out if it would even be open.

After an hour presentation, Governor Mike DeWine chose to change the course of Wright State by firing the entire Board of Trustees and removing Sample. He dissolved both the Wright State Applied Research Corporation and the Wright State Research Institute. All university ties to the Dayton Development Coalition were formally cut. The university was refocused and recentered with Esrati’s new mission, vision and strategy.

With collaboration between the AAUP, the new board, university leadership under the coordination of a former student Wright State forged a new direction for the university, no longer focused on the Wright Brothers as the fathers of powered flight, but instead on their scientific methodology. Instead of a traditional curriculum, Wright State pivoted to having students study their fields by researching and publishing the texts of tomorrow focused on the “crazy ones” – the people who changed the course of their field of study. The university dropped their sports branding of “Raiders” and swapped it for “Inventors” opening up a market for geek chic, selling seven figures worth of sports apparel in the first 90 days after the switch. Students, who were looking for something more meaningful than just a diploma, flocked to the school, which now embraces not only open source software, but open source textbooks. All students work in collaborative teams on short term knowledge sprints guided by their sensei’s, the professors who are now actively involved in guiding the educational experience, with tangible outputs instead of just grades and a credit hour.

The universities key focus on teaching open source, ADA compliance, and open and transparent governance, pushed the university from just another state university into a global success story of the new paradigm in education.

And while Esrati laments the 15 years of missed opportunity, the release of the new open source universal political information system, built and developed at Wright State under his guidance, made the battle worth it. Now, every political office in Ohio has a complete guide of what it takes to qualify, responsibilities, and campaign finance reporting as well as positions of candidates and their voting record- for all to see. It is predicted to help Ohio move forward toward a much more modern system of governance, a step beyond uni-gov consolidation.

Other advances in public records, ADA compliance and developing curriculum for Ohio’s new K-12 model, has companies across the globe looking at Ohio as the new state of the art when it comes to social capital and community development.

Note: This is written as a press release, because it’s been an ad industry standard since the rise of the Agency of the Decade from 2000-2010, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, and widely used by true practitioners of the craft of persuasion. WSU hasn’t had anyone with relevant credentials in advertising or marketing. The release was set in the future, because, actually describing the mayhem that will come with implementation may be hard for some to swallow. Changing the brand from Raiders to Inventors alone will face knee-jerk resistance of epic proportions. Bold moves always do.

Further note: If any of this shows up in future marketing strategies for Wright State University, the university will be sued for $1M, for theft of intellectual property. If you are at another university outside of Ohio, feel welcome to borrow with attribution. The Next Wave is available for consulting and help in respositioning your university or institute of higher learning.


Wright State University is a relatively young institution that began as a joint partnership between Ohio State University and Miami University. Wright State is unique in that it is the only second state university in a single county, supplanting Central State, because of racial fears of attending a “Black University” in the early 60’s. For a long time, the university was jokingly referred to as “White State.” No other county in Ohio is home to two State Universities. Born out of racism, the university branded itself by tying itself to Dayton’s favorite son’s the Wright Brothers, yet the initial logo looked more like a nuclear fallout shelter sign than an institution of higher learning.

Hamilton Hall was added in 1970 with 322 beds on campus, the university was primarily a commuter school for Ohio High School graduates looking for a low-cost, high quality degree. To this day, Hamilton Hall is the only on-campus student housing. Typically, a large part of four-year universities income structure is dependent on student housing/meal plans.

At some point someone in leadership decided to add athletics, two other choices were made according to a first-person account from the universities longest standing Athletic Director, Mike Cusack and this author. The colors green and gold were picked because someone on campus was a Green Bay Packers fan, and the name “Raiders” was picked because at the time, the Oakland Raiders were known as the bad boys of football. The first attempt at a mascot was some kind of strange Viking looking thing called Rowdy, (UD’s mascot is Rudy). In the midst of the economic meltdown of the university Dr. Hopkins committed a huge expense with an out of state branding agency, and Rowdy morphed into a wolf and the name Rowdy was retired.

Dr. David Hopkins, who left the university in disgrace after losing over $130M in a 5-year period, had started pushing “Raider Country” to identify the multi-county region from which Wright State recruits most of its students. Hopkins also wasted an inordinate amount of money on a new logo that was swiftly rejected.

When Dr. Hopkins arrived in 2007, his vision was of elevating Wright State to a “World Class… Institution.” The problem was, nothing about Wright State, from the faculty, to the students, to the mission of the university was remotely ready for “World Class” anything and the goals didn’t align with the capabilities or capacity. While no one would buy a Ford Escort to race at Le Mans, Hopkins pushed this narrative which derailed the entire direction from an affordable, regional school with some capacity to recruit international students thanks to ties to local defense contractors, into a suit that would never fit.


Over the years WSU has gone through multiple exercises in positioning via mission/vision statement re-writes. Few, if any, have been professionally executed exercises based upon research or using real and relevant data about today’s, and the future’s, challenges in academics, consumer behavior, choice, recruiting and value proposition. Institutions of higher learning everywhere are facing new realities in competition, online learning, national and global student mobility trends, etc. Each issue challenges each institution differently. Each must fully understand who, what and even why they are.

Every university has to somehow overcome the common realization that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are all college dropouts.

Because original research is expensive, much of the insight that I’ve used to put this plan together is based on 2 years of data collection by Omnicom ad powerhouse Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) in their pursuit and win of the $4B US Army recruiting contract. The military is very aware that their ability to recruit is based on high performing messaging reaching the exact same high school students who may be choosing between trade schools, 2-year associates programs, 4-year universities and the military. Considering the military has a major negative of a 20 year forever war where death or permanent disability is a possible outcome, the research was extensive and insightful.

Some insights from the DDB research:

  • Young adults want to make an impact, but opportunities are few.
  • They are looking for purpose not just a paycheck
  • They want to take on big challenges to help them grow.
  • They want to do work that is respected by others.
  • College is increasingly expensive and it’s hard to justify the cost

To respond and motivate the target audience Wright State has to make a case for not just the relevance of the education, but that Wright State students are actively making a difference while learning. That Wright State is a new educational experience, that is new, different, modern, using the tools of tomorrow while making an impact.

The new Wright State will provide aspirational goals, while creating a motivation for students to be a part of it.

Brand Shift/Away

The Wright Brothers as the founders of flight is not, and never should have been part of the brand story of the university. The University of Dayton, has been the “Flyers” forever, and a local high school is the “Aviators.” Wright State has to push itself away from flight, the Wright Flyer (an oddly designed and primitive design that the Wrights held onto way past other advances in powered flight). In fact, the Wrights were scorned for at least 3 years by the local community after their epic achievement in Kittyhawn NC. It is the same kind of arrogant, closed minded leadership that kept Wright State leaders from auditioning this plan. It’s why they cannot continue to lead this university in its move forward.

Brand Shift/Toward

The new positioning of Wright State has several unique stories to tell and ways to tell them:

The real story of the Wright Brothers, two bicycle shop mechanics, was their scientific approach and belief in what others had considered blasphemy- the idea that man could fly via heavier than air machines. Their spirit can be neatly summed up by a quote from George Bernard Shaw:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

The Wrights were iconoclasts, they challenged the status quo. They were not “raiders” who stole from others- but “Inventors” who changed the world. It is that spirit and the power of change that must be the new foundation of the rebranded university.

Rebrand/sports identity

The first major transformation- and least important brand change, is to jettison the negative term “Raider” and replace it with “Inventor.”

There are no sports teams called “Inventors.” There are a lot of geeks globally who would probably buy the first division 1 geek/sports brand. Current sale of “Raider” gear is limited to the university community/alumni/students.

The “Inventors” – if marketed properly and supported could easily be a seven-figure brand.

The actual value that Division 1 athletics and the high cost of coaches, facilities, scholarships for a university that has lost almost half its enrollment in a short period of time is currently negative equity. Students do not attend games or care about standings, unless a team is somehow magically a contender which is a long shot these days. This new brand may be able to help stop some of the bleeding.

Based on all metrics, Division 1 sports should be an easy thing to cut. It would be preferable to be a division 2 school, or drop athletics, especially with the challenges of Coronavirus, unless the new brand can help solve the insolvency.

Rebrand/intellectual rigor

The critical shift in the repositioning is that each college takes the creative/destructive spirit of the Wright Brothers, and every other heretic inventor/thinker who has somehow changed the world and shift the course of study to how those people made their breakthroughs. Wright State becomes the fount of knowledge for those who belong in Apple’s timeless “Think Different” launch video- “Here’s to the crazy ones.” With the subtext that if you come to Wright State, you will be preparing yourself to be one of those who takes the status quo and bends it to change the world.

The new brand celebrates “the crazy ones”

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
~ Apple, 1997 launch of Think Different.

There is a completely new pedagogy to introduce at Wright State that aligns with the brand and the new role for students as partners in their educational journey. Instead of studying a text-book, we will expect students to do original research to write the textbooks of the future. Instead of reading about being in business, we’ll actually run a business. Wright State students will develop the solutions to today’s problems using the same rigorous approach that the Wrights took to conquering the challenges of powered flight. The university will create the future tools of learning in a blended and virtual world.

This is a message that resonates with young people according to the DDB research for the Army. The potential recruits want to do something good for the world and be a part of something bigger than the isolation that comes with a virtual world clashing with IRL (in real life) during uncomfortable times. DDB proposed “It takes an Army” as their tagline, which took the Army from the “Be all you can be” or “Army of One” passing over “Army Strong” to talk about being a part of something bigger.

Unfortunately, the generals fighting the last war are stuck in warrior culture- so, “What’s your warrior” has been shoved down DDB’s throat to recruit video gamers and wanna-be Rambos despite the military having even higher need for more intelligent and malleable talent.

As a rule, the expressions “workforce development” and “career planning” are no longer to be used at Wright State. It is an institution of higher learning, a place to train tomorrows thinkers, innovators, “Crazy ones” and not a place to be trained to be a cog in the machine. This is why every single board member had to be replaced. They have treated the university like analyzing line-items of a P&L instead of as a stockpile of intellectual capital. Discussions about becoming a “STEM school” are the last thing this university should be engaged in.

Open Source University

Wright State is going to pursue the challenges of changing the value of what they provide by a two-pronged transformation of the educational experience. Call it the Open Source University.

  • A commitment to using open source tools throughout the university. Linux as the OS of choice, Open Office as the standard tool for documents,  Sakai for an LMS, Drupal or WordPress to build the Universities sites and CiviCRM to keep the network of graduates together are suggestions as starting points.
  • Build a strong online network/community- integrated with commonly used tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc. All freshmen and staff must take an intro to social networks and be active participants. While many people use these tools, few fully understand the tradeoffs they accept as a price of entry (ie consumer as the product, value of data).
  • Adopt some open source projects as part of the university’s contribution to the global economy.
  • Begin a major in managing Open Source systems.
  • An area of specialization: ADA compliance for open source software and systems. Wright State is uniquely positioned in this area with both the ADA experts and the User Interface portion of the SOPP program on Human Interface Design.

The second part is a switch from being consumers of content to creators of content.

The cost of college textbooks and test bases has become a major stumbling block/cost.

Yet, there are plenty of open source textbooks out there- and more on the way. Other universities are well in the lead on this (however when I first proposed it to Dr. David Hopkins in 2012 he blew his chance to have positioned WSU well for the future).



It’s well established that writing about things is a better way to educate people than just reading about them. It’s the premise of the whole higher ed practice of requiring dissertations and publishing peer-reviewed work as proof of knowledge.

To turn the entire university into a production facility for scholarly research and building the textbooks of tomorrow is a game-changer. It can also help the state of Ohio reposition itself as an innovative community of learners- with our college students crafting the textbooks and learning materials for our K-12 system instead of relying on slow moving materials that were endorsed by a committee in Texas (the largest purchaser of primary school textbooks).

Forcing students to master the art of collaboration via the tools of today- wikis, video, LMS, adaptive guided educational journey’s, puts students and graduates in a unique position as masters of the new reality of distributed workforces and global collaboration.

There will be a few introductory courses required for all incoming students (and new faculty) to indoctrinate the campus in the Wright way to learn. One is a course that clearly teaches the economics and privacy tradeoffs of “Free” – as in Facebook, Google, and every other “tech service” that turns the user into the product. An introduction to the supposed character flaws and challenges faced by every single person who introduced revolutionary change to the planet, and lastly, a journalism course, examining the roles and biases of reporting as a contributor to the discussion of current events and outlooks. To be masters of media, students have to truly understand media.

With this new initiative, Ohio will have the beginnings of the toolset necessary to revamp the entire educational experience and reposition the state as the economy of tomorrow.

The Coronavirus pandemic brings new challenges to how we educate. It may finally force institutional education to re-evaluate the flipped classroom concept and re-focus on what education is really supposed to do: lead a learner on a guided journey. There is a lot to unpack on this, but, the following video with over 21M views (in 4 years) shows that these ideas have been around for a long time, but educators haven’t been willing to adopt new approaches.

Veterans Educational Network

It’s been hammered hard by the local lobbyists that the success of the region depends almost entirely on the strength of the base. While it may be the largest single site employer in the state, tying the future to the industry of war and destruction is usually not aligned to the goals of higher ed.

However, the pool of students looking for educational opportunities to transition from warrior to worker is large, and the challenges of transition are many. (As a Service-Disabled Veteran who owns a certified SDVOSB, I am qualified to speak on this. I also founded a veteran’s business association, VOB 108 which ran a Vetrepreneur academy).

While Wright State has greatly expanded its veterans service office in the 30 years since I graduated, there are other universities that have made far greater progress in supporting the veteran community.

The most impressive organization I’ve connected to is based at Syracuse University. Their Institute for Veterans and Military Families has put together outreach programs that are at a totally different level than other veteran transition programs.

It’s my recommendation for Wright State to join their network of institutions of higher learning to provide access to their programs and collaborate, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.

ADA campus

When I first arrived at the WSU campus it was like stepping into another world- one where 15% or more of students were physically challenged. Granted, it was in the midst of the Dr. Jerrold Petrofsky hype machine era, but, Wright State did offer a unique mostly barrier free campus connected by tunnels making it perfect for students with disabilities.

Unfortunately, despite running an admirable disabilities resource center, the university not only failed to take this to the next level, they did things like build the Nutter Center with zero protected connection to campus.

The biggest insult was never building, at minimum, a covered attended vehicle receiving station for students in wheelchairs to transfer from their vehicles to the campus without having to expose themselves to the elements. A valet service, or a covered garage should exist if only for this population. Since the university also failed to expand campus tunnel-connected housing other than the Hamilton Hall, there still remains a need for much more fully accessible connected housing for students with disabilities.

Since WSU does have a population of students who face access challenges, one area of expertise to differentiate the university is creating a testing center for ADA compliance and work ADA solutions into open source community projects and to work with human factors engineering students to test for compliance.

This should also be a thrust of the Open Government project that Wright State could spearhead nationally and internationally.

Campus without walls

Massively Open Online Courses are not new. They’ve scared most institutions of higher learning as weapons of their demise. The reality is, the best educators can use these tools, via curation and adaptation to raise their game. While it would be great to be able to hire all of these educational stars, the real question is how to craft our own.
Wright State will have to create a new training program for faculty to show how curation, explanation and moderation are the new currency of knowledge in the hyper-connected world.

The words “publish or perish” take on new meaning when you make the transition from being the publisher to realizing that your job is to get your students to publish with your assistance.

Professors now serve as editors, pushing the Socratic method back to the forefront of the educational journey.

Universities must force students to establish relationships not only with their peers, but with thought leaders across the globe. In business, the adage has always been “it’s who you know” and the same should be applicable to those entering the workforce after learning their toolset at Wright State.

The same should go for professors, who will work across the globe to build relationships and projects with like-minded innovators out to change the world.

As the Wright Brothers freed man from living on land and sea, Wright State 2.0 will free students and faculty from the constraints of read, regurgitate and repeat. The university won’t be professing to be out to change the world, but, out to change the opportunities for its graduates, who will have a different toolset to approach the world than their predecessors. They’ll be inventors, iconoclasts and have a framework for fabricating the future.


If you’d like to further discuss the ideas presented in this paper,

[email protected]

And there, you read the whole thing. Now I invite your thoughts.

May the Inventors rise from the ashes of the Raiders and achieve the lofty heights that the Wright Brothers showed us possible. RIP Chuck Yeager- he would have understood this.

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