The fall of Wright State

Warning, this is a TL/DR (Too Long/Didn’t Read) post. It’s not meant as quick hitter, but as a serious starting point for changing the worst school board into the best. I’m personally vested in this as a graduate of Wright State. Even though I know I could have gone to a “better school” and been challenged more, at the time, Wright State was probably the right place for me. I’m sure that Stakeholders in the Wright State community will appreciate this post and what is coming. For $100 million to vanish, and the board of trustees basically given a hall pass, is unconscionable. Where did a $100 million reserve, $150 million in new research/workforce development contracts and a supposed $150 million capital campaign fund go?


Wright State University Board of Trustees president shared his favorite quote early on in the 3+ hour board meeting on Aug 17, 2018 “you know a camel is a thoroughbred designed by committee” and then proceeded to lead a committee to design WSU camel version 51.8.17

That version number stands for 51 years and the meetings date in case you are wondering.

Wright State is now 51 years old and going through a second self-induced midlife crisis. The first came when the university, under many of the very same trustees, started a process of “reinvention” by committee around 2010 give or take 2 years.

Wright State budget showing $100M loss in five years

Where did $100M go in 5 years?

thumbnail of FY19 Budget Presentation_final_boardmaterials

Wright State FY 2019 Entire PDF budget presentation. Click to download PDF

According to a slide presented at the earlier, well attended, June 8th 2018  Board of Trustees meeting, Wright State had a healthy balance sheet in 2011- $98M in Departmental and others, and $72M in “General University” accounts. By FY 2017 they were $11 M in the hole on the general university fund and down to $52M in the departmental and other. The outlook wasn’t good.

A president had stepped down, an interim hatchet man stepped in to stabilize things. The same board that was asleep at the wheel hired a new president. Hundreds of workers lost their jobs, others fled the sinking ship, but none of the trustees were held accountable, despite investigations into missing funds, H1B visa violations, ethics issues, voting to hire the Chairman Michael Bridges’ son, many lawsuits and some very questionable real estate deals. They did however, manage to cut the swim team, while “upgrading” the men’s basketball coach and paying him half a million a year, double what his predecessor made. That’s even more than the new president.

How did we get here?

Back in 2008 a new mission and vision statement were rolled out with great fanfare. A 2-year process led by Dr. Robert Sweeney who some say was the man behind the curtain of Dr. Hopkins regime. It was also around the same time that Dr. Hopkins started drinking what I call the Dayton Development Coalition Kool-Aide and believing that Wright State had to tie its pony up to Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Since so many major corporations had left, downsized, or been bought in Dayton- the only reliable teat left to suck on was Uncle Sam’s and they went for it in a big way.

Even as far as to hire the former DDC chief Jim “Lefty” Leftwich and founding DDC Chief Ron Wine to consulting contracts (full disclosure, my firm, The Next Wave, is working with Wine to build his consulting business and website), neither of which ended well in the eyes of the public. However, the work Wine was involved in; creating the ARC (Wright State Applied Research Corporation) and growing WSRI (Wright State Research Institute) are now put on pedestals as pillars of Wright State’s future.

The problem is that Wright Patterson Air Force Base was here before Wright State, and if this current board continues on their committee driven path, the base may be there long after Wright State as we know it. Consider the following two articles:

There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, but Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen says that half are bound for bankruptcy in the next few decades.

Source: HBS prof says 50% of US colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years

Wright State University’s financial woes are so deep the school may not fully recover for two decades, according to a report obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

The report was created by the WSU administration and filed with a fact-finder as part of ongoing contract negotiations with the faculty union. It paints a vivid picture of Wright State’s budget trouble and shares certain details publicly for the first time.

“It will take WSU more than 20 years to get back to the financial position it was in just six years ago,” the report states.

The report comes even as Wright State administrators and trustees have said in recent months that the university has “turned a corner” financially.

The report was submitted by the university to make a case for its stance on contract

Source: Wright State won’t recover from financial crisis for 20 years

Wright State, landslide winner of the “Esrati.com worst school board in Dayton” contest,  just like the Trotwood Schools and the Dayton Public Schools, Wright State is teetering on the brink of “State Takeover” which is an untested, unproven, unrealistic threat from a State that’s done plenty to allow these organizations to get in trouble- without providing the oversight and guidance to stop them from heading down the wrong path in the first place.

One has to wonder what the Ohio State Auditor does when a University manages to lose over $100 Million in the span of 5 years- and a redacted $300K forensic audit by Plante Moran Report reduced size, can’t tell anyone where the money went. Even board member Bruce Langos, who ostensibly gets to see the un-redacted version, can’t tell you where the money went, and he used to be the Chief Operating Officer of Teradata. The board chair, Douglas Fecher, is a banker (calling him a Credit Unionist just doesn’t sound right) and he can’t tell you where the money went either. [We won’t delve into Fecher’s issues – the university graciously bought his old HQ at what insiders say was an artificially inflated price just before he was anointed to the Board by the Trustees. Oops, and then he took WSU’s money and bought out a WSU major donor to move into a bright, shiny new headquarters building next door.]

Nothing forces change faster than being broke. Yet, some who go through the agony of bankruptcy, of business failing, of falling down, actually learn from it- and spring back in a big way. America loves come-back stories. Think Apple, even if it’s a wild stretch.

Part of the “if” Wright State will spring back was what was covered in the board meeting on August 17th, and interestingly enough, the starting point for that discussion was from a suggestion from the Student Trustee on the board- not from one of the “high-powered” business brains appointed by the Governor.

Austin Rains is the kind of student that Wright State wishes it had 18,000 of. An over-achiever, a guy who is headed toward a bright future in our community.

From his LinkedIn profile “My goal is to become a recognized servant leader in health care industry. I am a hyper-focused, people person committed to innovating health care and improving my community. What excites me? Mission-driven work, leading change, breaking down barriers for people and empowering people to pay it forward.”

It was his suggestion to view an archived webinar from The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) which bills itself as “the premier organization centered on governance in higher education.” And although it’s in the video, here’s the link: https://www.agb.org/events/2018/complimentary-webinar-business-model-transformation-for-organizational-change

It was a case study of a university going through a financial crisis and trying to reposition the remains to be competitive, in an environment where most universities are battling to even be considered relevant. Wright State isn’t by any means alone in its quest to prove the value proposition of a bachelors degree in a day when you can teach yourself to code online. I spend about 30 minutes a day watching YouTube to learn new skills. I spend at least 90 minutes a day reading online, and pre-internet, when I was a student at Wright State, I spent time reading business books in addition to my text books, unlike any of my classmates and even some of my professors (anecdote- a management professor had assigned reading that included a sidebar about management guru Tom Peters– who had written what was considered the first business best seller- creating a whole new genre. When I asked about Peters- the professor, despite having assigned the reading, had no clue of who Peters was. His book- “In Search of Excellence” now reads more like an academic text than all that he’s published since, but it was still a hot topic around 1985, 3 years after its publication).

The webinar was watched by the board members in attendance, Fecher, Michael Bridges, Sean Fitzpatrick, Dr. Anuj Goyal, General C.D. Moore, Langos, Rains and first-time attendee, second student trustee, Shaun Wenrick. Grace Ramos showed up later, Stephanie Green and William Montgomery were absent.

The webinar was about 45 minutes- with all the typical academic style charts and graphs to make things legit. Nothing presented was rocket surgery. Basically change is hard, establishing unique positioning is difficult, competition is challenging, change or die. And stuff that shouldn’t have been a surprise to Wright State people in particular- 75% of your student body will probably be a transfer student.

The irony of them watching online education to solve their bricks and mortar problems was lost on them- but not on me.

Yep, schools, just like careers, are now in the gig economy. And most of them do their damnedest to “protect the value” of their degree by requiring you to meet their curricula standards and doing at least your last 30 credit hours with them. It’s an obsolete policy that’s part of a no longer relevant model- especially when competing with online education which isn’t saddled with legacy buildings and infrastructure and moves with you. The consultants called this kind of a policy a “self-inflicted wound.”

Reminder to WSU, all those military people and their spouses, may not be here for a full 4 years, or long enough for just 30 credit hours, and they have always been a significant part of your enrollment.

A good friend and former client, Sally Hogshead, wrote a best-selling handbook- “Radical Careering” where she talked about investing in “portable equity” – it’s “Radical Truth 44- “portable equity is the only form of job security today” and she goes on to define it as “Portable equity: The reputation you earn. People you meet. Skills you learn. Accomplishments you acquire.” Unfortunately, it’s out of print, good news is you can download a free copy here. If it takes you more than an hour to read, you flunked the third-grade reading standard- if you don’t spend countless hours thinking about it after reading it, you are insanely out of touch.

“Radical Careering” probably has more answers in it for helping train tomorrows workforce than hiring high priced consultants from out of town to tell them how to attract and engage the future workforce that Wright State wants to prepare. But since it’s written by an advertising superstar, not a PhD. It couldn’t possibly be relevant. And that’s the problem with higher ed as we know it today- they still take themselves way too seriously and spend too much time creating silos of “education” instead of fertilizing the fields.

My 27 year-old web wizard is a perfect example of the new workforce. He taught himself to code at age 12- because he wanted to build a website to put his band online. He went to Bowling Green to get a liberal arts degree, B.A. in English language and literature, theory. Never paid a dime to learn coding, yet that’s how he puts his bacon on the table. I’d put his practical knowledge and ability to think against any WSU computer science student any day. In fact, I had a guy with a Masters in Computer Science from WSU – who was able to do the same job, but wasn’t nearly as proficient or ingenious- and ingenuity is today’s currency.

The board discussion that ensued after the online learning session that they just embraced without acknowledging the irony, was where you’d expect to hear the nitty gritty of operational plans and projects, or have marketing strategies with budgets and projections. Instead, Dr. Schrader (who might have gotten an edge in her hiring because her last name sounds like Sch-raider) brought in a professor and a political strap-hanger to go over their accelerated process to rebuild the mission/vision statement and help her develop her 35 word or less “strategy” statement. She had tapped Dr. David Bright, a tenured Professor of Organizational Behavior and Organization Development and Michael Wiehe, who has both an undergraduate degree from WSU as well as an MPA. Wiehe’s background is straight from Congressman Turners office and before that, the Dayton Development Coalition. He’s now the director of Wright State’s applied policy research institute.

I’d look up his salary, but State Treasurer Josh Mandel only has Miami and Bowling Green in his employee database.

Up came their deck, all the little boxes and arrows, and an explanation of how they got from there to here.

Bright had talked about his “comprehensive process” with 320 people, 20 themes, and Schrader said they’d spent over 6100 person hours in events talking about what they called “The Wright Path to 2025.” Absolutely nothing wrong with any of it- except this is the academics deathtrap- process trumps palatable for lack of a better word. It may sound good on paper, but, you don’t want to eat the paper.

Operational plans were non-existant. They checked all the proper boxes, but what came out was again, a camel. The board, with their “street smart” business sense behind them- immediately proceeded to dissect it thinking they were helping the process. “You can swap this out for any university”- which is absolutely true. We have the same problem in advertising- almost every agency can sell you on their process by promising the moon and the stars, but only a few actually deliver. Schrader left her wounded on the battlefield as the bullets kept coming.

“Radical Careering” wasn’t written by just anyone in advertising btw, Sally had won almost every industry award known to man or woman by the time she was 27. A superstar copywriter, she had worked under the best, another friend, Luke Sullivan, who also wrote a textbook on advertising called “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This” which is in its fifth edition (I’m quoted in it- and also built and host the site www.heywhipple.com). The difference between most writers and creative copy gods is that they can take the mundane checklists of features, advantages and benefits of anything and turn it into something people want to buy.

Sending a professor out to write a mission/vision statement/strategy is kind of like sending a teenage mutant ninja turtle to take on Bruce Lee. One sounds like he has superpowers based on the ideas and leading research of what a superhero is supposed to be- and the other- is an actual super human who has trained his whole life to kick your ass.

Radical Truth number 6 Break out the nunchucks and let the street fighting begin

Radical Truth number 6

We’ll detour to another radical truth from Sally’s book- Number 6- “Break out the nunchucks and let the streetfighting begin.” The graphic that goes with this “truth” is epic- what she continues with – is a good description of what was missing in the discussion.

“Victories are no longer civilized affairs won by following the rules. Not in the boardroom, and not on the squash court. Today, success is won in the streets with your cunning and instinct. You have to roll up your sleeves. You have to figure out how to get to the sales meeting to present the work, even if all flights out of O’Hare are delayed because of a blizzard. Are you willing to push harder, work faster, and think smarter no matter what obstacles arise?”

And that’s what the board started to do. Street fight. Only without the enemy in sight, no general in the room and most importantly, no one skilled at crafting a sales pitch.

There was no actual work done to increase enrollment, cut costs, improve public perception, make students feel good again about their university. They just postured and pronounced.

Marketing was never mentioned in the room, even though their biggest problem is attracting students.

There is a fundamental problem with board and organizations. Unlike the “Mastermind group” of 5 advisors that Henry Ford relied on according to the classic management book “Think and Grow Rich” by Napolean Hill, boards and leaders aren’t really picked to be a team. Boards are picked to more to serve as a check and balance, and in this case, it’s 9-1, but the 9 picked the 1- and they think they are the smartest folks in the room.

If Dr. Schrader was picking a team to work with, this is another one that looks good on paper but you wouldn’t want to eat. A retired general, a doctor, a pair of bankers, a few business C types, all sounds good- except not a one has any experience actually running an institution of higher ed.

So we hear things that sound like they came out of the Jack Welch playbook “be number 1 or 2 in a market.” (Welch is sometimes referred to as the world’s greatest CEO, as if there is a world series of corporate meritocracy) A discussion ensues about what we should specialize in- including health care, logistics, computer science- and damn those people in the liberal arts, until Bridges pipes in “I believe the college of liberal arts is our largest in terms of enrollment.” Boom.

It’s also one of the lowest cost centers. It’s cheap to teach the classics, all the important texts are already in the public domain.

Of course, I’m just a spectator at the bullfight- and can’t say anything, but all I keep thinking is wake up folks, the guy who took a broke and bankrupt company to become the most valuable corporation in the world was not only a college drop-out, but a liberal-arts major.

Yep, I’m invoking the ghost of Steve Jobs. Something people in silicon-valley like to do in discussions of everything from immigration to privacy. Unfortunately, he’s not here anymore to weigh in, but, like Jesus on the cross, he has followers, and I count myself as one.

My favorite quote attributed to Steve Jobs is “A people hire A people, B people hire C people.”He also hated committees and focus groups, because “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Proof in point- up until the iPhone, no one needed either a touch screen or the internet in your pocket. Now, we can’t live without it.

Jobs had a reputation for berating his employees and being a shitty human being, but still managing to create unmatched value through differentiation. The Mac wasn’t the first personal computer, nor was the iPhone the first “smart phone” but both changed the competitive landscape via design that put the user first. Something that universities talk about but fail.

Wright State was never designed to be the things that the board talked about, or the professors presented. It wasn’t supposed to be world leading anything, or known around the globe, it was one step up from a community college- a place for folks to go who weren’t black, to get an affordable education in a 16-county area. Before you jump on the racist bandwagon, just be aware that Greene County is the only county in the state to have 2 state universities, Central State- and White State as it’s known in Wilberforce Ohio- home of our two Historically Black Colleges/Universities.

Yep, Wright State is an invention of separate but equal, that was founded just as that wall was being taken down by the civil rights movement. However, once a state institution starts, momentum keeps it going and now, we have Wright State with around 17,000 students and Central State with about 1,700. Note, African American population of the US- about 10% – case closed.

Wright State, for the most part is open enrollment, meaning anyone with a high school diploma or a GED can attend. It’s not selective like Miami or Ohio University, it takes anyone. It’s Sinclair 2.0, it’s BeaverTech, a place for those who are looking for an affordable option close to home to get a degree which is supposed to lead them, and often does, to the promised land of better employment opportunity upon graduation.

All the discussion of how to attract students by improving programs or making them better won’t matter, because as Langos kept reminding people- Wright State is almost universally peoples second choice. Not quite the school of last resort, but, the one that fits best situationally. Professors don’t like that, and neither do board members who want to think that they are part of a Garrison Keeler story “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Wright State is struggling for average right now, and sometimes just being the best at being average is perfectly fine. Henry Ford sold a lot of cars that were just black and affordable.

Under Hopkins, they just thought if they find their secret sauce all will be ok. Then went wild with corporate strategies of reinvention. They spent a ton of money on a rebrand with some consultants from Florida, only to find out that their “new and improved logo” looked more like the local rubbish disposal companies brand mark.

WSU paid Florida-based YorkBranding $250,000 over the past year — with the majority going toward the design of the logo. In total, the university has spent around $850,000 on its branding effort, Gabbard said.

Despite opting to keep the logo it launched nearly two decades ago, university officials say funds paid to YorkBranding were worth the cost.

https://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/wright-state-rejects-new-logo-keeps-wilbur/KPLqkgLRL3vt6kJA9V9bPI/

In one of Hopkins missives to the troops- he said “We captured the essence of our decade-long transformation by our intention to be the “Best University FOR the World.”=

This is yet another one of those pie in the sky, sounds great, but could be used by any University lines- and the real question is what world was he talking about- the real world or Fantasy Island where money buys secret dreams that may just turn into your worst nightmare. The world of higher ed was changing, and Wright State thought there was a silver bullet- a new brandmark, vision and mission and saddle up to Uncle Sam for those Government research contracts and *poof* we’re relevant again.

Once they realized the money was pouring out faster than it was coming in, they decided to do a capital campaign to try to hide the fact that they had a burn rate that would embarrass a silicon-valley startup. They announced it as a star-studded success, parading Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks as their front man, when in fact, no one can account for the money (They claimed $150M).

Unfortunately, just like in comedy, the best and most fundamental building block for turning something around, is honesty and this board can’t be honest.

While they start each meeting reading a conflict of interest statement, we’ve already seen evidence that some board members past and present have benefited from some funny business being run through Wright State. H1-B visa students working solely for board members companies, building sales, building purchases, naming rights on buildings, and a whole bunch of hocus pocus, much of it hidden behind wholly owned subsidiaries that operate as questionable stand-alone non-profits. All of these will be thoroughly detailed in future posts. The fact that this meeting was being held in the mostly vacant former HQ of WSU Board chair Doug Fecher’s Wright Patt Credit Union was almost laughable. Five and a half-million laughs.

Bruce Langos, the newest trustee is the only one suggesting that the school get back to basics as a low-cost value proposition to attract students and lead them to good jobs. They are already supposedly one of the most affordable institutions in the state, yet, somehow they haven’t figured out how to turn their loss-leading positioning into a strategy for competitive advantage. As Langos says, we’ve got the fixed cost of the campus, and holding out for a premium isn’t helping us cover the nut (I’m paraphrasing- but you get the point).

The challenge now is enrolling more students because that’s where the money comes from.

Yet, throughout the discussion, the brilliant business people in the room didn’t bring up marketing at all. Dr. Schrader had her dynamic duo with their scholarly solutions, yet the only ad guy was the one moving around the room with a camera, capturing the story of yet another local educational organization ship sinking, only with ostensibly smarter/wealthier people at the helm. He’s the one writing this story.

The fact that the student trustee found the seminar and had them watch it was probably the most salient takeaway from the 3-hour shitshow. He also made the most astute statements. When discussing focusing on certain majors- he said “you can’t solve all computer science problems with computer science” and while they were talking about school as a preparation for a career- he’s talking about focusing on student success, making the current customers feel good and empowered to do more. The more I think about this whole thing, he may be the smartest person in the room.

Another “Radical Truth” from Hogshead is my favorite- “Aspire to be the dumbest person in the room.” Watching this meeting, there were no aspirations at all, other than to talk the most.

That Schrader had no control over the board or the meeting, and was minimally involved in guiding the discussion is indicative of a problem.

Can you imagine Steve Jobs sitting at a board meeting trotting out consultants to tell the board how to turn Apple around? Successful CEO/University Presidents/Leaders actually present the big ideas- and own it. Schrader, for the most part, never challenged the board, never suggested she had a plan. She sat on the sidelines while Bright and Wiehe took her bullets.

They planned to talk about this some more at the next meeting in September. They plan to roll this whole plan out for implementation in October. A very compressed time line, even for someone that actually had a plan.

When the September meeting came, she trotted out Bright again, and the mission statement might have been a bit shorter, but, whoop-de-doo.

What was more important to them, was making sure the media now had new rules for recording. “The media”, being me. See the last post for their new rules.

Unlike the big board meeting in July- where the university was running cameras, and the show was choreographed, this one was much more of a rough and tumble. There were a few other spectators, Max Filby from the Dayton Day-Old News- where you got to read a short 600 word article about the meeting five days later.

A few AAUP members in the audience asked who I was and were happy to confirm their suspicions. Dr. Doom (I just love writing that- Dr. Travis Doom is the faculty president and an outstanding teacher according to rate my professor etc.) was there and was asked for some off-the-cuff personal opinions on the matters at hand, but the small conference room setting was a lot like what Dayton Public does to avoid scrutiny- a place where there isn’t really a comfortable place for the public to observe.

I had one fixed camera running – and worked to get some good upclose and personal footage for the big picture expose of yet another school struggling to be relevant and avoid a takeover. I sent the link of the unlisted video to Doom, and within a week it had 100 views. That’s a lot for a 3 hour board meeting. It’s first publication is today, and the view count stands at 500.

I have been holding back a few things in this TL/DR story. Back around 2007 I approached Dr. Hopkins with a strategy for rebranding the university. He liked it, but as the new guy on the block, with no marketing chops at all, didn’t do anything with it. Instead of hiring me- or any of the other local talents at branding and marketing that might know the market well, he brought in a football guy, literally. George Heddleston was his answer to marketing higher ed. Heddleston had worked for the 49’rs and had a few superbowl rings.

Heddleston’s Linkedin profile  looks pretty much abandoned, but the last update had him as “Chief Communications Officer at Wright State Research Institute (WSRI)” probably because Hopkins could never fire anyone, but he could shuffle the deadwood off to his private slush fund.

Now Heddleston is the “Vice Chancellor, Communications and Marketing” at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga- with no online bio connecting him to Wright State or the 49’rs.

Although the local media caught on fast. He rolled into UTC with a bang-

“Speaking of head honchos, did your old colleagues from Wright State University who you’ve recently rejoined at UTC (Chancellor Steve Angle and fundraising whiz Bryan Rowland ) mention when you were being recruited from Dayton that you’d have to be the bag man for business dealings like this? Or was it sprung on you after you got here?”
https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/opinion/columns/story/2017/mar/31/martinwelcome-chattanooga-vice-chancellor-hed/420452/

Heddleston has a rather inflated vision of his abilities, before he got the title of bag man-

“Chancellor Angle was also previously employed at Wright State University.

“He was provost there when I was Vice President for Communications and Marketing,” said Heddleston. “We had a big job to do back then in ’09 and we succeeded at it, it took a while and he never forgot that. He feels that there are similar circumstances here at I could be helpful to.”

http://www.theutcecho.com/university-relations-instills-new-leadership-staff-members/

I’m not quite sure what job he thought he had, unless it was to begin the sinking of Wright State. I met with him once because Hopkins wanted me to, and left the meeting wondering to myself how do I get paid that well for knowing nothing?

The rebrand idea I gave to Hopkins is still viable, but what grew out of that was that Hopkins put me on a retainer, and never really assigned any projects. Maybe it was to buy favor, something Hopkins seemed very important, but, I did complete one assignment that I suggested to him and he gave a greenlight to. I rewrote the mission/vision strategy statement for the university in advertising language instead of professor-ese. He liked it, even said he’d use it in his speeches, but he could never dare to suggest that the two-year process of formulating their manifesto could be undone by a Wright State grad with a degree in marketing in a few hours (my total billings to WSU around that time were around $1400).

That document, which technically belongs to the university, made its way off my hard drive over to Bruce Langos, as had my rebrand proposition a few weeks ago. I called it the “strategic plan lite.”

Langos wrote back- “I think strategic plan lite has some excellent thoughts that you should share with the board. I can do without the bicycle shop piece but I like the rest and maybe the others on the board would as well.”

Nothing has come from that months later.

But, in doing background, there is so much more to uncover. The University still has a lot of answers to give on how $100M vaporized before they should be trusted again with any money. Where is the $150 million Tom Hanks Capital Campaign money? It was sold to donors as a means to boost student scholarships, faculty retention and recruitment and pay down debt service on new /purchased buildings. Schrader, apparently thinks she’s done a great job in her first year, enough to warrant a bonus, that “she turned down.” Although that whole meeting of a subcommittee of the board in executive session seems mighty suspicious and probably a violation of the Ohio Open Meetings act, since it was public business in which a decision was reached, yet, never voted on in public. Remember, a subcommittee can’t take an action without approval from the whole body- in public.

The Evaluations

Evaluations at WSU are something that seem to be overlooked as well. Although the very same organization that provided the webinar for the August meeting strongly believes in annual presidential assessments, the Wright State Board apparently does not. They were unable to provide a single presidential assessment for the last 5 years when asked via public records request.

thumbnail of WSU Response to PRR – Presidents Contracts

The last three contracts of university presidents at Wright State. David Hopkins, Curtis McCray, Cheryl Schrader. Click on image to download PDF

What they finally did provide was the contracts of the last three presidents.

In the Hopkins contract, this appeared:

“The Board of Trustees (or a group of Trustees designated by the Chair) shall conduct an annual performance evaluation (emphasis mine) in the fall, and in its-sole discretion, adjust your base salary upward (if at all) following its review of your performance.”

They also had this clause:

Additionally, the Board of Trustees, in its sole discretion, at the conclusion of each year, shall determine whether to pay you a performance bonus for specific achievements during that year. It shall base its consideration upon its review of your performance of specific goals previously approved by you and the Board of Trustees.

The next line is almost mob worthy- offering to pay a bonus in CASH.

The bonus, if any, shall not exceed a sum equal in value to twenty percent (25%) of your then annual base salary, and may be paid in cash in whole or in part or in another appropriate manner agreed upon by you.

They have a little handwritten fix to the “twenty percent”- because twenty ain’t 25- and these folks are very generous.

Another problem with the “contract” is that the University- which keeps claiming that the University Foundation is a separate entity- and not required to follow the rules of public records- is not a separate organization, by having the following clause in his contract:

(7) The University will work with the University Foundation and arrange for it to reimburse you for dues at a country club. The University will also work with the University Foundation to provide reasonable support for your spouse, Angelia, in her role as an ambassador for the University and particularly as she assumes a greater role in the university’s campaign activities.

In addition, the university actually has a “formal primary operating agreement” with the Foundation where funds are paid and exchanged and expenses are shared like the capital campaign. I have recently requested this document from the University through a public records request along with sources and uses of funds.

You can’t have it both ways. Either the Foundation is a totally separate entity, or it’s not.

Just because it’s interesting- the termination clause:

The Board of Trustees may choose to terminate your services as President for cause at any time. “Cause” shall be defined to mean actions or omissions by you which are undertaken or omitted knowingly and are criminal or fraudulent or involve dishonesty or moral turpitude. In the event of termination for cause, your appointment as President shall cease immediately and you will not be entitled to receive any further compensation or benefits as President. If a dispute arises as to the existence of cause for termination, it shall be settled by mediation, with the costs of mediation, except your attorney fees, paid by the University. No compensation or benefits will be paid during the time of dispute and mediation. Any termination of your appointment as a faculty member shall be governed by the provisions and procedures applicable to University faculty members at that time.

Since the board failed to comply with any of the evaluation terms of the contract, and they were the ones who failed to terminate him for the unexplained $100M+ burn rate from stability to turmoil, we have to question who oversees the overseers’? And when will they be held accountable?

This sweetheart deal of a contract was signed by Larry Klaben, Chair of the BOT on 1 March 2013. Klaben, owner of Morris Home Furnishings and several Ashley Furniture Home Stores- was replaced on the board after his 9 year run, by Sean Fitzpatrick who began on July 22nd of 2016.

On March 15, 2017 Hopkins signed an amendment to his contract, to accept the terms of his resignation as tendered by Michael Bridges, who was the board chair.

The termination clauses and pay of his contract were basically washed away, leaving Hopkins a mere pauper, being paid $200K a year salary, plus his deferred compensation and vacation time. He got to keep the company car until June 30, 2017- but after that, was on his own.

To most observers, this would look like a firing for cause:

The one (1) year of presidential base salary, car allowance and reimbursements for university related expenses that was to be paid in Dr. Hopkins first year following the conclusion of his term as President which is referenced in Section 8. of the CONTRACT AGREEMENT, shall not be paid to Dr. Hopkins and Dr. Hopkins specifically agrees to forego, release, waive and relinquish all right, title or claim to such components of compensation in the CONTRACT AGREEMENT.

~ibid contracts of last three presidents

How the board explains this is anyone’s guess, especially, since there are no performance evaluations from the previous years showing any concern for the financial stability of the university.

None of the financial guys running the show got in trouble either. Jeff Ulliman who signed off on the budgets with the giant sucking sounds, retired gracefully on June 30 this year.  Mark Polatajko who served as Wright State’s vice president for business and fiscal affairs beginning in 2012 and left just as the holes in the ship became obvious, fled to Kent State.

Considering the hatchet man, Dr. Curtis McCray,  the board had to bring in, to do the following, there would be probable cause for a firing- and zero compensation paid to Hopkins.

A) Stabilize the University’s financial situation, eliminate a budget deficit of $30 Million Dollars, and restore a budget that increases University unrestricted reserves to a $5 Million Dollar surplus while preserving the University’s core academic mission and services, and maintaining its core athletics programs at a NCAA Division I level. Present for approval to the Board of Trustees a 2017-2018 budget reflecting the deficit reduction and reserves surplus at the Budget Workshop in June, 2017.

To do this act of magic in a mere 108 days, the Board allocated $119,892.00 or $1,164 dollars a day plus per diem for expenses. This was signed 2 days after Hopkins agreed to bow out, and after the university had identified the University’s President-designate, Cheryl Schrader, to begin as University President on July I, 2017.

Schrader had been offered and accepted the job on March 1st. Her contract also called for an annual evaluation:

The Board of Trustees (or a group of Trustees designated by the Chair) shall conduct a performance evaluation annually, (emphasis mine) and in its sole discretion, may increase your base salary if merited following its review of your performance.

Once again, those evaluations have either not been done, or the University has committed a violation of the Ohio Sunshine Laws by not supplying them as required by law.

That maintaining athletic programs at a division 1 level was equal to “preserving the University’s core academic mission and services” tells you a lot about this board and their egos.

We’ve been gathering other documents, as best we can. Questions about the very property that this meeting was held in, were sidestepped by calling their wholly owned subsidiary, Double Bowler Properties Corp “a private, non-profit corporation that is separate from the University” as an excuse for not providing responses is criminal.

thumbnail of Double Bowler Guided self study

Double Bowler “self-study” by Greg Sample and overseen by Brickler and Eckler submitted on Feb 14, 2017 Click to read the PDF

The Double Bowler board according to a “self-study” by Sample and overseen by Brickler and Eckler submitted on Feb 14, 2017 is:

Michael Bridges, Vishal Soin, Robert Sweeney, Jeff Ulliman, and Larry Klaben. Michael Bridges is the Chair of the University Board of Trustees and the President and CEO of Peerless Technologies Corp. Robert Sweeney is the Secretary to the University Board of Trustees and the Vice President for Planning at the University. Jeff Ulliman is the Vice President for Business and Finance and Chief Financial Officer at the University. Vishal Soin is the CEO of Corbus LLC, the CEO of CTC Plastic, Inc., the Partner and Manager of Soin Capital LLC, the President of Soin LLC, the Chair of the Dayton Children’s Hospital Board of Trustees, and a former member of the University Board of Trustees. Larry Klaben is the immediate past chair of the University Board of Trustees and the CEO and President of Morris Furniture Company,Inc.

Michael Bridges, Vishal Soin, Robert Sweeney, Jeff Ulliman, and Larry Klaben, which is basically current and former Wright State board of Trustee members and WSU employees. It would be a conflict of interest for Bridges, Klaben and Soin to be involved in an entity that receives payment from Wright State and for school employees to also be involved, without university and board oversight.

Keep in mind, Dr. Sweeney, the architect of many of these University boondoggles like the failed 2016 Presidential Debate, remains as a highly paid faculty member. He also sits on the WSU Board Chair’s Doug Fecher’s company, Wright-Patt Credit Union. And Greg Sample, heads up the cloaked in secrecy Double Bowler while serving as WSU “President Administration”?

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.”
? Walter Scott, Marmion

We will be digging deeper into these contracts, the Wright State Applied Research Corporation, Wright State Research Institute and the very questionable relationship with Wright Brothers Institute, Double Bowler and the Foundation and how one dead mystery man seemed to tie them all together.

We’ll also look for where the “Rise and Shine” campaign money went, the questionable shell companies surrounding so many of these entities and the Presidential Debate failure.

If you have information on any of these issues and the fall of Wright State, please feel free to contact me to share your information. All sources will be kept confidential.

It is my goal to continue to dig into this story until we’ve not only uncovered where the money went, but, how board members managed to enrich themselves, and escape prosecution throughout this debacle.

This community deserves more value, honesty and integrity from Wright State. Because, it belongs to us, not the Board of Trustees, Dr. Schrader or any of the other dilettantes who have crashed one of our great community assets.

Thank you for reading.


I’d like to thank the numerous people who contributed to this piece, but, most are doing so anonymously.

I reached out to numerous people mentioned in this story, including Dr. David Hopkins, Dr. Robert Sweeney, Sean Fitzpatrick, and some that weren’t, including Dr. Sundaram Narayanan, Gwen Mattison. All declined to talk to me.

There will be more stories coming.

Battle of the bad school boards

The Esrati.com PollWhen I first ran for City Commission, Abner Orick was the director of the Board of Elections. He asked me “why don’t you run for school board first to get your name out?” I didn’t have kids in school, I didn’t understand politics in Dayton yet, and I didn’t realize that school boards are one of the most dysfunctional positions in the state of Ohio. It’s almost written into law to make sure you end up with a keystone kops krew- with no easy, specified way to remove a board, and allowing them to pick their own members when someone leaves. The fiasco with Adil Baguirov’s residency last year proved that there are no checks and balances on even the most basic rule- residency.

The pay is minimal- capped at $5000 a year (the cap had to come because Dayton routinely ran up huge board compensation with their over abundance of meetings).  The actual role of the board is convoluted- they are supposed to set policy and direction for the Superintendent- who is supposed to run the district. Most of the time- it’s the other way around.

All that aside, we have two school district boards and one college board of trustees that can’t seem to do anything right in the Dayton area- so, let’s have a little poll, and decide who should get the crown of incompetence for the first quarter of 2018.

Trotwood Madison Board of Education

Last week, the Trotwood School Board voted 4-1 to fire a teacher, Khalilah Forté, for cause. Forté organized a student college tour, outside of school, with private dollars. This, along with her taking a student into her home, against her principals warning, were the stated reasons. There is more to this story, including that the one school board member who didn’t vote to fire her, Norman J. Scearce III, was the past president of the group that sponsored the tour. All the kids who went on the tour, did so with parental approval. The student in question, had her parents leave the area- and she needed some place to stay until she graduated. 

I remember examples of this happening when I was in HS. In my day, the teacher would be praised for going above and beyond in looking out for the welfare of her students. Her personnel record was spotless in her 3 years at TM.

The district is ranked worst in the state, and just hired a new Superintendent. Students are unhappy with this decision to fire a teacher that went above and beyond for them and are threatening a walkout during testing week.

Dayton Public Schools Board of Education

In just the first quarter of the year, this BOE has redefined FUBAR, starting even before the 4 new members took office, with their an attempt at convening of a school closing task force closed to the public. Already working with an interim superintendent with a whopping total of 1 year experience in the district, they then hired her at a premium amount, for three years, without even opening the position to internal candidates. The bench clearing brawl that broke out at the end of a Thurgood/Dunbar basketball game ended up getting Thurgood tossed out of the tournament and Thurgood being put back in. They decided to waste a ton of money- and piss off the Ohio High School Athletic Association (the sports Mafia of the state) by taking them to court- even though the district was already under sanctions for the Dunbar/Belmont thrown football game attempt the year before. They won the suit, but Dunbar only won one game before getting knocked out. They lost in an appeal on the improper termination notification of former Treasurer Craig Jones. They lost a first round in a Sunshine laws case brought by me, pro se, against them for their task forces private bus tour of buildings to close.

The bus drivers union came to within two days of a strike- pushing some testing back a week. The demoting of the Belmont Principal 6 weeks before the end of the school year did nothing to stop the systemic problems of a school that’s over-enrolled and understaffed. There have been multiple calls for police intervention at the school since the change over to management by committee. The district also subverted  their own purchasing rules by sliding a contract for a PR survey by a Cleveland firm to the Montgomery County Educational Services Center. The district PR machine seems totally broken, with the non-renewal of Dr. Venita Kelly who was hired to manage the PR a year ago, along with a contract to the most expensive bidder on an RFQ last year. When the assignments for principals was made public last week- it came via Esrati.com- with the Superintendent only releasing an email to staff after the changes were public. And lastly, despite enrollment drops being a primary concern, procedures for enrolling students are still a mess- with some parents spending an entire day in the “enrollment center.”

Wright State Board of Trustees

It’s been a while since esrati.com covered much of the ongoing fiasco at my alma mater. Therefore, I’m not limiting the screwups to just the last quarter.

This board is about to put the university into fiscal ruin, and just two weeks ago, declared that $10M needs to be cut in 10 weeks. This didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a long steady progression into the abyss. While Dr. David Hopkins got to retire with a pension and with his dignity and immediately move to South Carolina so that he can’t be hauled back into court to pay for his sins, the board continues to oversee what can only be described as a train wreck.

The malfunctions all began when board members used WSU’s ability to bring over students that amounted to unlimited H1-B visas, so they could have cheap labor for their IT firms. Trustee Nina Joshi president and CEO of UES Inc. resigned after getting her hands caught in the cookie jar. Trustee Michael Bridges of Peerless Technologies managed to vote for WSU to hire his son for a $125K a year IT job, without the job even being posted. Either of these infractions would normally result in prosecution, but both got barely a hand slap. Bridges stayed on the board, his kids job offer revoked. Current board chairman, Douglas Fecher, the CEO of Wright Patt Credit union should have some explaining to do about how WSU bought his former HQ while he sat on the board.

The failure of WSU to execute and bring the Presidential debate to campus should have been an early indication of managerial malfeasance and an organization run amok, however it was just the easy target. Harder is the operation of a bunch of shell companies which have been spending money like they can print it, with no legitimate oversight- since they aren’t quite WSU, or anything else. The Wright State Applied Research Corporation and Double Bowler Enterprises both fall into the netherworld of quasi-governmental slush funds. That a bunch of former politicians, lobbyists and “economic development” types are tied in should set off alarm bells. The hiring of Jim “Lefty” Leftwich, who tried to represent both WSU and the State of Ohio on the same deal was just one indication that no adults are captaining the ship.

Labor relations at the university are at an all time low, with staff being told that it’s up to them to control costs, mostly by not spending money required to actually do their jobs. When the Trustee’s brought in an interim President to do the dirty work of slashing and burning bloat- they chose to not listen to Dr. Curtis McCray- and instead cut Swimming- but boosted athletics budget by a million for basketball. Now, with ten weeks left they are wondering where the money went.

The hiring of the new president drew a limited field thanks to the dire straights of the school. The eventual pick is an introvert, who has yet to figure out that her salary alone is part of the problem. If there is one place where pay for performance is indicated, it’s for “turnaround” leaders- and so far, she’s barely been able to point out where the cuts need to be made. First hint: paying former congressman Steve Austria $150K a year probably doesn’t win you any favors with the state.

Your three choices

We’ll quickly see which organization should win the prize for incompetence in the first quarter with this poll. Feel free to also leave any other pertinent issues that I managed to overlook in this post as comments. This poll is in no means scientific (we’d need to hire a consultant from Cleveland to do one of those…). I just thought it was time for something new.

 

Which Board Should Be Fired First?

Trotwood Madison School Board
Dayton Public Schools Board of Education
Wright State University Board of Trustees

Why isn’t Dr. David Hopkins in jail?

Justice comes late to the president of Penn State, as he and other are sentenced to very short jail time for their role in the Jerry Sandusky sex offenses:

Three former Pennsylvania State University administrators, including former president Graham Spanier, were each sentenced to serve at least two months in jail Friday for failing to alert law enforcement about a 2001 incident involving retired football coach Jerry Sandusky and a boy in a campus shower. The sentences marked one of the final rulings from the criminal justice system on the shocking saga of missed opportunities to stop a sexual predator associated with one of America’s most storied college football programs.

Source: Former Penn State president Graham Spanier sentenced to jail for child endangerment in Jerry Sandusky abuse case – The Washington Post

They are guilty for what they didn’t do. They knew, but failed to act.

Dr. David Hopkins and his staff at Wright State aren’t facing any charges, in fact, most of them still are getting paid.  What did they do? Well, that depends on who you ask. Finger pointing, lawsuits, breech of contracts, odd hiring, even odder logo redo,  real estate purchases, failed presidential debates, H1-B visas, issues with nepotism (a trustee’s son was hired without a job posting) the list goes on and on- yet, the man who was paid to be captain at the time the ship was sinking still has a job.

The very foundation of the institution was critically damaged. Life long employees are now without jobs, key positions are opening up like pot shops in Colorado, and staff is interviewing everywhere and anywhere to escape the mess that Hopkins made.

The oddest thing about all of this to this observer is that the Board of Trustees is also intact, despite being the designated check and balance to this shit show. What’s even more insane, is that being a trustee in the state of Ohio to a public institution is an unpaid gig.

The trustees shall receive no compensation for their services, but may be paid for their reasonably necessary expenses while engaged in the discharge of their official duties.

Source: Lawriter – ORC

Then again, there is the saying, you get what you pay for.

The latest news on this front is Bruce Langos, formerly of Terradata and currently working for Sheriff “Shifty” Plummer, is now the newest Wright State Trustee. Langos previously starred on this site for being a tax evading beneficiary of the Austin Landing tax scheme where only little people pay taxes.

    Bruce Langos, standing, chairman of the Montgomery County Drug Free Coalition and director of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Intelligence Unit, and Jason Olson, seated third from left, addiction resource officer for the Dayton Police Department, presented information Friday afternoon about how Montgomery County officials deal with addiction, overdose deaths and crime caused by drug use at Consolidated Care Inc.’s West Liberty office. (EXAMINER PHOTO | REUBEN MEES)  Source: Montgomery Co. officials share strategies in fight against opiates

Bruce Langos, standing, chairman of the Montgomery County Drug Free Coalition and director of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Intelligence Unit, and Jason Olson, seated third from left, addiction resource officer for the Dayton Police Department, presented information Friday afternoon about how Montgomery County officials deal with addiction, overdose deaths and crime caused by drug use at Consolidated Care Inc.’s West Liberty office. (EXAMINER PHOTO | REUBEN MEES)
Source: Montgomery Co. officials share strategies in fight against opiates

That Langos, who says he has an undergrad and MBA from the unaccredited “Hamilton University” is the best pick for the seat on a board over an institution of higher ed, has me scratching my head. Considering half the hub-bub at WSU stemmed from questionable relationships with people closely linked to the Dayton Development Coalition of which Langos used to be the chair, says Kasich is looking to manage a coverup instead of bringing in a true objective voice.

There have to be more qualified, less controversial people who are actual Wright State graduates to place on the Board.

Wright State is a critical part of our local economy, and the damage done to it under Hopkins and the existing board cannot be left to ride off quietly into the sunset. No matter how nice Hopkins is, or how apologetic the board, they are all guilty of malfeasance in office and at the least, should be removed from any positions to do with the University.

 

 

Wright State, Lost Leadership

The new wright state logo not done by YorkBranding or Push Inc showing Wright State leadership under Dr. David Hopkins

Wright State’s new logo signifying Dr. David Hopkins’ leadership

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

Hello–

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:

  1. Student Success Support (Student Success Center, Veterans, LGBTQ, International and others)
  2. Fundraising and Alumni Engagement (Rise. Shine. Campaign)
  3. Applied Research and Business/Industry Engagement (WSRI, WSARC, Commercialization)
  4. Branding/Marketing (address a highly competitive market and grow our national visibility)
  5. 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

  1. more discipline in strategic hiring;
  2. improved central oversight to control overspending;
  3. better capital project oversight; and
  4. 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:

  1. How would you reduce your unit’s 2016 base budget by 8 percent? 
  2. What initiatives and projects will create additional revenue in the next two years?
  3. 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.

Thank you,

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?

Specifically:

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.

Martin Kich

President, AAUP-WSU

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.

 

Wright State- Wrong University Leadership

The new wright state logo not done by YorkBranding or Push Inc. showing Wright State leadership under Dr. David Hopkins

Wright State’s new logo signifying Dr David Hopkins’ leadership

Dr. David Hopkins is a nice guy. A very nice guy. But, frankly, how many screw ups is a leader allowed to have before he gets shown the door. Obviously, at least 9- like a cat, if it’s Wright State, Wrong University.

Off the top of my head- we have the hiring of Jim Leftwich, former head of the corrupt Dayton Development Coalition, who was working for the state at the same time as he was working for WSU- and funneling contracts to… wait for it… himself.

Then we have former state legislator, and now, lobbyist cum consultant, Ron Wine, collecting a million a year on a “consulting contract” – except, there was no contract- to “bring opportunities” to Wright State- which reeked so badly that statehouse leader Cliff Rosenberger felt it necessary to tell his fellow legislators “use caution on everything because clearly they can’t handle themselves right now.”

And of course there is the H1-B visa scandal, where the university was sponsoring these permits to work in the U.S. for companies locally, including ones owned by some members of the board of trustees- as a modern day indentured servitude. Then in the investigation, they hired a law firm and an accounting firm and can’t figure out which one was protected by legal-client privilege when the newspaper did a Freedom of Information Act request.

As if that’s not enough to sink any mere mortal’s job, somehow, the son of the chairman of the board of trustees got hired to a $125K a year “information security job” straight out of the Air Force for a position that wasn’t posted- and the chairman voted on it. Of course, next up- a call for a $8 million “internet security upgrade” that was needed because of the very public presidential debate. One doesn’t have to wonder too hard which of the trustees was going to get the contract for this work.

Two weeks ago, the University proudly announced a “new logo” for which they went to Florida to find the talent to help rebrand them (sounds painfully like the University of Dayton going to Philly for their sports rebrand which flopped originally). This week- they chuck the work in the trash can. You can see the UD link for my list of curated local firms easily capable of doing the work- leaving mine out (I’m a Wright State grad- and have done more than a few corporate rebrands in my career).

Why Wright State ignores local talent, over and over is another sign that they don’t value their own graduates’ degrees much, nor the regional talent that they keep espousing.

Here is the gist of their reasoning for the new logo crashing and burning according to the Dayton Daily news:

Wright State University President David Hopkins says the school is scrapping a new logo that was unveiled last month for reasons that included “a number of deficiencies in the design.”

The university said Thursday that it will keep its current logo after considering feedback from community members, faculty, staff and students.

The proposed logo change — which included removing Wilbur Wright and color changes — was part of a larger rebranding effort the university launched in 2014.

Steve Gabbard, associate brand manager at Wright State, said that during the feedback process some said the logo looked too similar to logos used by Rumpke Waste & Recycling and Intel.

“The Wright Brothers connection was required,” Gabbard said. “People couldn’t imagine a logo without it.”

Hopkins sent an email to faculty and staff this week announcing the decision, but did not go into detail about why the new logo was rejected.

“Last month, we released recommended changes for campus review and input. That review has highlighted a number of deficiencies in the design,” Hopkins wrote. “At this point, the logo change is suspended and the branding effort will continue.”

Gabbard said the university initially removed the image of Wilbur next to the Wright Flyer because “it looked like someone missed the plane.”

Gabbard said WSU’s goal is to increase enrollment; each student contributes at least $10,000 to the school. Last fall’s enrollment was 18,059, according to the university’s website.

WSU paid Florida-based YorkBranding $250,000 over the past year — with the majority going toward the design of the logo. In total, the university has spent around $850,000 on its branding effort, Gabbard said.

Despite opting to keep the logo it launched nearly two decades ago, university officials say funds paid to YorkBranding were worth the cost.

Source: Wright State rejects new logo, keeps Wilbur

What’s not clear is how they stumbled onto YorkBranding for the blame on this, because when they announced this sucky logo, they were working with another Florida firm according to that DDn article:

The new logo is part of a larger rebranding effort the university launched in 2014. Trustees recently approved a $522,200 contract with the Orlando, Fla.,-based marketing firm Push, Inc. to help lead the effort. The total cost of the rebranding wasn’t immediately available.

Source: New Wright State logo doesn’t include Wilbur |

Once again, we seem to have a question of who did Wright State really hire? Push or York?

If Wright State really wanted to do a brand makeover, this was a topic of discussion in my very first meeting with David Hopkins over gyros. I suggested that the athletic brand “Raiders” had zero connection with the Wrights -and that the Green and Gold- selected because someone was a Packers fan made no sense either. There is a holistic approach to rebranding Wright State- but neither Push nor YorkBranding has a clue.

As to the idea that the brand mark is going to do much to change Wright State from “Beavertech” into a world class destination university, once again, someone needs to have their head examined. The fact that WSU has a “associate brand manager” is a clear indication that the university jumped the tracks long ago. The administrative bloat under Hopkins has raised costs, while faculty morale has dropped precipitously. All the new buildings do little to improve the quality of the education- and the fact that Wright State can’t find it within themselves to hire their own graduates to do their rebrand speaks clearly to how they value their own product.

Although, when they do hire their own graduates, like my classmate Bob Grant who is now the Athletic Director, his recent decision to fire the Basketball Coach, Billy Donlon, because he was failing “fan engagement” reaches new lows in reasons for firing. The man produced graduates, changed lives, and still won a lot of games, despite having the lowest paid assistant coaches in the league. He also loved Wright State and bled Green and Gold for what it’s worth. Maybe if the university spent less on hiring former congressmen like Steve Austria as “consultants” (Austria is an actual registered lobbyist) and could explain how the odd hiring of the coach’s dad as the “Director of Operations” (makes for a really odd chain of command, don’t you think) the coach might have had a better shot. As to one big-money donor complaining that WSU basketball isn’t anything like UD basketball- the first thing to question is where did this genius go to school? Wright State isn’t Harvard either, nor should it be.

All this comes down to the old maxim often attributed to Steve Jobs: “A” people hire “A” people, “B” people hire “C” people. It’s time for a complete housecleaning at Wright State from the president and the board of trustees down to the athletic director, and the “associate brand manager.”

Wright State University needs to reexamine itself from the ground up. Is it supposed to be a school with a “top 100” basketball program, and be a world renowned research facility- or is it supposed to be an affordable place for local residents to get a degree while working, or being stationed at Wright Patt?

Now that the “lobbyists” are having their way with allowing community colleges to serve outside their counties and to possibly offer 4-year degrees, why not just let Sinclair take it over and we cut overhead and tuition drastically? I guarantee Wright State would grow exponentially with tuition at $98 a credit hour- no matter what logo you put on the school- even if it looks like a local trash company.