Right hand sues left hand, in senseless exchange of public tax dollars in the name of Justice.
Sounds like a headline from The Onion, but unfortunately, it’s the latest volley in the folly that’s known as the Wright State University self-enrichment program for trustees and their friends- or H1B visa scandal.
If you’ve been hiding your head under a rock for the last 3 years, here’s the recap. Wright State University President David Hopkins who is universally loved, gets played by the local Military Industrial Complex and their cronies to extend the university umbrella to cover a bunch of projects/programs/initiatives to “save the base.” Next thing you know, WSU isn’t in the business of granting mediocre students degrees (WSU is open enrollment- meaning if you graduated from an Ohio High School- you are guaranteed admission), it’s a research institute and training facility for “the next generation war fighter” (cue patriotic music and wave a flag). All of this is because of the BRAC, Base Realignment And Closing act of Congress might cause “job losses at WPAFB“- which is “Ohio’s largest single location employer.” Note, anything in italics is meant to be said in your best hyperbole voice.
It doesn’t help that WSU has severe University of Dayton envy- where they run a very successful “Research institute” to gain government contracts and funding for research. Of course, a university with a pretty good engineering school that has hired top base scientists for years has the jump on Wright State. A friend of mine who taught in the Wright State engineering department used to call it “the best recruiting tool UD had.”
Hopkins puts a plan into place to build a similar structure at Wright State creating “affiliates” of the university- the Wright State Research Institute and Wright State Applied Research Corporation- and then goes to get contracts for them to “do research stuff” and “provide opportunities for Wright State students” and create “World class something or other” which was going to make Wright State a global player right behind MIT, Stanford, Georgia Tech…. and Boise State, all giants in engineering and smart folk stuff.
Instead, WSU Trustee Nina Joshi who owns a company named UES, and Michael Bridges who owns a company named Peerless Technologies, and this other local company, Lexis Nexis, and a fall guy, Vijay Vallabhaneni, who owns WebYoga (which has the worst website I’ve seen in the last 5 years) all start hiring tech staffing at discount prices through these new, “affiliate” entities- and avoiding government regulations. Wright State adds a nice little markup on the tech folks- much like a modern day human trafficker. The program is called an H1B visa, and it is supposed to restrict the number of people who come into the USA to work from places like India and China- where they have more engineering students than we have people. Google, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle etc- fight over the allocation of these visas every year. WSU used its educational facility exemption to skirt the limits and bring in brainiacs by the boatload. The conditions for the academic exemption are that the “students” are supposed to be working for WSU and managed by WSU. This wasn’t the case. Instead, they were supposedly building a product called “SpiderXchange” for WebYoga and doing other stuff that wasn’t kosher.
When the curtain got pulled back from the scam, the university started to clean house. The President, the Provost, the Lawyer, the DealMaker, the Candlestick maker- all got ousted, while the board of Trustees got a reprimand. Nina Joshi resigned from the board – without shame. Bridges stayed on. Governor Kasich rewarded LexisNexis with a representative on the board to be privy to all these legal messes right in the middle. Sean Fitzpatrick works for LexisNexis- which is being investigated- yet, he, like Bridges, signed off on the “Non-Prosecution Agreement” tendered today by the US DOJ attorney, Benjamin Glassman. How this is even allowed to happen is bewildering, but, since WSU also agreed to a gag order, no one is talking.
Now here’s the crazy part: Wright State, a state owned entity, is to pay the US Treasury a million of yours and mine tax dollars as a “fine” to make sure “Wright State” isn’t naughty again in the H1B visa space. This is to stop anyone from being a dirty rotten slave trader of tech workers. Oh, and we may still prosecute some of those people in the future…. but we won’t say who.
Remind me how this happened? Was it the Wright State students who came up with this scam? Or was it the taxpayer of Ohio? Because, last I checked, while “corporations are people too” thanks to Citizens United, public entities are still managed by people who can and do commit crimes, and that’s what the US Attorney is supposed to do- find those people and prosecute and punish them.
That didn’t happen today. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, nothing happened, except tax dollars were once again wasted at Wright State, but that’s par for the course. That’s all the place is really good at lately. Today at the Board of Trustees committee meeting if you were listening carefully- you heard about how Wright State lost $1.3M when the building they helped build for ATIC– was sold out from under them- and they got to absorb the loss. Of course, the building was built by Wright State “benefactor” Bob Mills, who keeps showing up on almost every bad real-estate deal the university has been involved in. There was also discussion of creating the Douglas Fecher Boondoggle Memorial Respectability Center for the Preservation of His State Bailout… to which Trustee Langos said he wouldn’t vote for until the University had delivered a true “Space Plan” (not to be confused with Trump’s Space Force” where the utilization of physical spaces and classrooms is appraised and analyzed with our new lower enrollment. The meeting was held in the Fecher Boondoggle space- Fecher, who is the CEO of Wright Patt Credit Union (and a former EMT- as he shared today) sold his former HQ to the Wright State sham shell corp Double Bowler so he could move into the former CSC building which was owned by Bob Mills. The building has been a giant sucking sound on the WSU balance sheet- but now- it will become the new home of the Wright State Archives.
Apparently the Wright State Library isn’t a safe place for storing books, with every kind of problem down to insect infestations and no fire suppression system. So, $450,000 was raised to move the collection to this building and only this building. I’m pretty sure Mill’s will get the construction contract to do the retro-fit, and then, Wright State will have a building across the street from campus to hold a collection that’s supposedly worth about $20M, and used by approximately 4500 people a year (note, many of them are WSU students ASSIGNED to do homework utilizing the collection).
Two questions come to mind- where is the $150M that donors gave to the University in the Rise and Shine campaign that was touted as a great success, and why doesn’t the university sell off the collection and the cost of maintaining it to someone else- they need the money… to pay fines to the US DOJ.
Click to download complete PDF of the Wright State Non-prosecution agreement
I’ve got the entire “Non-prosecution Agreement” as a PDF for you to read, but, I thought I’d just pull out the pertinent bullshit that should make your head spin as a teaser to read the whole thing- it’s the shortest document I’ve seen in the Wright State drama, weighing in at a brief 5 pages plus a signature page. It’s even written in clear English, which I guess is what you get for a million dollars to pay for a Harvard Law Grad to slap you on the wrist.
This Agreement does not provide any protection against prosecution for any crimes except as set forth above and as described in the attached Agreed Statement of Facts, and applies only to WSU. This Agreement does not apply to any other entities (other than those identified above as being part of WSU) or individuals. WSU expressly understands that the protections provided to it by this Agreement shall not apply to any businesses or agencies that are merely affiliated with WSU. Additionally, this Agreement does. not provide any protection against criminal prosecution of any present or former trustee, officer, employee, agent, or consultant of WSU for any violations committed by them.
Note that last line- “Former trustee” making you wonder if the current trustees are buying immunity?
It is understood that WSU accepts and acknowledges responsibility for the acts as set forth in Exhibit A, which is incorporated herein by reference. WSU further agrees that it will not through its present or future Board of Trustees, attorneys, officers, or senior management employees, who are employees that hold a position of Vice President or higher, make any public statements contradicting any of the facts as set forth in Exhibit A. Any such contradictory public statement by WSU, its present or future Board of Trustees, attorneys, officers, or senior management employees shall constitute a breach of this Agreement, and WSU would be subject to prosecution by this Office pursuant to the terms of this Agreement. The decision whether any public statement by a member of WSU’s Board of Trustees, its attorneys, officers, or senior management employees contradicting a fact contained in Exhibit A will be imputed to WSU for the purpose of determining whether WSU has breached this Agreement shall be at the sole discretion of this Office. Upon this Office’s determination that such a contradictory statement has been made by WSU, this Office shall notify WSU and its counsel. WSU may avoid a breach of this Agreement by publicly repudiating such statement within forty-eight hours after notification by this Office. This paragraph is not intended to apply to any statement made by an individual in the course of any criminal, regulatory, or civil case initiated by the United States against such individual unless the individual is speaking on behalf of WSU.
This is the don’t talk about Fight Club clause. The district attorney has eyes on you, don’t talk, don’t mention this mess, and maybe, it will go away.
WSU accepts and acknowledges responsibility for the acts of its current and former employees who were involved in the conduct set forth in the Agreed Statement of Facts in Exhibit A. WSU further agrees that the factual statements set forth in the Agreed Statement of Facts are accurate. WSU condemns and does not condone criminal conduct, including the improper conduct set forth in the Agreed Statement of Facts, and has undertaken and ‘ completed substantial changes throughout WSU to prevent such conduct from occurring in the future, including, but not limited to the remediation measures set forth below.
Except, WSU can’t go directly to jail, it can’t pass go, it can’t collect $200 Mr. District Attorney, because WSU isn’t a criminal or a person. It’s a public entity. The criminals are still running around Dayton doing business, or have retired to South Carolina, and you haven’t done a damn thing about it. It’s like someone farted in a room, and everyone knows it smells, and even know who did it- but no one is willing to actually call them out- including our Harvard trained lawyer. Yet- since I haven’t done my job (yet?) others may… seriously, when you read this next part, all kinds of people still might be smart enough to go after people who actually committed crimes and benefited from it.
It is further understood that this Agreement does not bind any federal, state, or local prosecuting authority other than this Office. This Office will, however, bring the cooperation of WSU to the attention of other prosecuting and other investigative officers, including but not limited to Department of Defense, Department of the Air Force, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, National Security Agency, United States Secret Service and National Institutes of Health, as requested by WSU and to the extent any federal, state or local prosecuting authority submits a request for information to WSU as a result of this Agreement or the federal investigation.
Let’s play abbreviation bingo just because it’s fun: DOD, DAF, DOL, DHS, DHHS, NSA, USSS, NIH – did we miss any? I’m guessing the DOJ is acting on info uncovered by the FBI- but, I’m not a lawyer except when I play one in my own defense on TV.
The big problem is the lie the attorney tells in the last paragraph of Exhibit A:
Upon being notified by this Office of the federal investigation, WSU’s Board of Trustees immediately addressed the H-lB visa employment issues. WSU removed the faculty and employees responsible for the contracts and completed substantial remedial measures. This included restructuring key departments such as the General Counsel’s Office and the Department of Compliance in order to insure all existing and future H-lB employee applications comply with all federal laws and regulations.
If the trustees had truly addressed this- there would be 2 less trustees on the board, and at least some folks in an 8×8 cell. Instead, the taxpayers are paying a million dollar fine while the people who were implicated were paid to go away, or walked away with retirements and separation pay.
There is no justice in this action by the Justice department.
I hearby crown US DOJ attorney, Benjamin Glassman with Hue Jackson Job Security award. The HueyJ award is where you get paid a lot of money, to successfully do nothing, and even after getting fired, end up with a job again smelling like roses.
Just remember, from now on, universities are people too.
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.
Where did $100M go in 5 years?
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.
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.
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:
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
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
First there was CityWide development- a quasi-government organization that sucked up tax dollars to fix up a house here or there. 30 years later, it’s a fricking bank, building spec buildings that it rents for sub-market rates and hurts local property owners who try to compete. This is the worst of governement.
We don’t vote on who runs CityWide, we barely pay attention to it. And we’ve never asked for our money back- because, well, it’s supposed to come back as the “vibrancy factor”- as in, if we fake looking successful, we’ll be successful. You know people like this- it’s called “fake it till you make it” and if you don’t “make it” – at least you look good doing it.
Then we added the Downtown Dayton Partnership. At first we paid a snake oil salesman a ton of money to “revitalize downtown”- until he ran out of town on a rail, and we started using it as a place to park people we liked and wanted to pay well with no real oversight. We even passed an extra tax levy to fund them. Their major contribution 15 years later- they hire a company from out of town (out of state really) to pay people minimum wage to be “ambassadors” (a fancy name for street sweepers) to keep downtown clean. Their big twice a year parties- Urban Nights, are done with- after mobs of kids of the wrong color decided to come en masse.
Next up, the Port Authority. What’s this? They build buildings for rich private companies, but don’t have to pay property taxes on them, because “we” own them. The idea is, we get income tax from them, so it’s all ok. Can’t give the money to the Dayton Public Schools, because they, well, suck, but- we can give money to city government, because, they do such a great job (at getting themselves and their friends re-elected).
Throw in the Dayton Development Coalition for good measure. They take care of our Congressman (and they used to take care of his now X-wife- remember “Get Midwest”)- because, well, he makes money come back to the companies we built the buildings for that don’t have to pay taxes. You shouldn’t pay attention to these people either- but if you’re wondering why Wright State is in a bunch of trouble, look to former Port Authority and Dayton Development Coalition “leaders” who are right in the middle of it.
Let’s be clear. All of Dayton’s eligible four year olds is about 1,500 kids each year. That’s about 1 % of the population. But, Dayton Public Schools, a public system, with lots of oversight, already provides FREE pre-school that’s “5 star rated” to about 400 students and isn’t at capacity. If they had some more money, they could provide transportation which would boost their numbers.
But, no- along comes Dr. Tom Lasley, with his “Learn to Earn” program. He thinks that if he gets every kid into pre-schools, even if they are run by someone in a house, and are “three star” or more, he’ll dramatically change the educational outcomes of Dayton Public Schools.
This is hooey. No amount of pre-school preparation are going to solve the fundamental problems facing Dayton kids. Hunger, homelessness, drug addiction, parents incarcerated, pre-school doesn’t fix that. “Learn to Earn” is a phrase I personally find revolting. I learn because I love learning. To me knowledge and education are a form of worship. It’s how we evolve. It’s not how we earn. This phrase, when applied to our community that is disadvantaged in so many ways, reminds me of “Work sets you free” which was what the Nazi’s put on the gates of hell. I don’t make that comparison lightly.
Of course, Issue 9 is also going to pay for more cops. Let’s talk about “more cops.” Dayton used to have a force of over 500. We are at near our lowest staffing levels ever. But, there are probably 600 cops in Dayton now- the problem is they work for the people who are giving money to this campaign. The hospitals all have private police forces, the universities all have private police forces, MetroParks has a private police force. They don’t answer to anyone. Need a clue how this works Dayton? Ask Samuel Dubose. Any more questions?
If we were going to raise taxes and wanted to improve our neighborhoods, and do something for all of Dayton- we could invest in free wifi city wide. All of the 15,000 Dayton Public School students will have their own computer next year- but many don’t have internet access anywhere but school. Bridge the digital divide with that money and you open the flood gates to online, self-guided learning for 15,000 kids- instead of preschool for 1500- and guess what, we can even let the taxpayers use it too.
Believe it or not, the United Nations Human Rights Commission declared internet access a fundamental human right back in 2011. No one declared preschool one.
Watch the video. Share the post. Vote no on issue 9.
We can raise taxes when it’s actually for the people, by the people, not another sell out to private enterprise.
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
Together, over the last decade, we have had unprecedented success in building a new model of a 21st century public research university more relevant to the needs of the students and communities we serve. Our focus has always been on providing an affordable, high-quality education and building a diverse and inclusive welcoming community. We are using the expertise of our faculty and staff, along with the energy of our students, to engage with our communities to solve real social problems and growing the economy and quality of life throughout our region. At the very heart of everything we have done is our commitment to meet our diverse student population “where they are” academically, financially, and experientially to propel their success. We captured the essence of our decade-long transformation by our intention to be the “Best University FOR the World.”
Along this journey, we have faced formidable financial challenges. In 2008, the Great Recession exacerbated the already-20-year-long erosion of state support for public higher education. To address the challenges we faced in 2008, we strategically utilized our reserves to smooth the impact on our people and campus and to continue investing in strategic initiatives, many designed to grow alternative revenue streams in order to lessen our reliance on state support for operating dollars. It was apparent that we must be more in control of our own destiny in this “New Normal” of public higher education.
In 2010, we needed to restructure our base budget to align with the new realities of projected revenues. In my email to campus in the spring of 2009, I referred to our challenge as a “Nut to Crack.” We initiated a campus process that included a 5 percent reduction exercise given to all Vice Presidents and Deans. The purpose of the exercise was to insure that we were spending our resources on the priorities of the 2008 Strategic Plan (“Relentless”). A set of guiding principles was developed for the process, and ideas for reduction and new revenue generation were elicited from throughout our campus. Ultimately, the “Nut” was defined (approximately 4 percent of our base budget), and each Vice President and Dean was given a reduction target ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent, depending on unit performance trends. Using multiple tools, we reset our base budget in 2010 with the overall goal of emerging stronger as an institution.
With the help of an improving economy, a surge in enrollment growth from the impact of the Great Recession, and federal support through the American Recovery Act, we emerged in 2011 with one of the strongest financial years in our history. This allowed us to renew our reserves and accelerate our investment in a variety of initiatives, many to diversify our revenue streams. The following is a brief list of examples:
Student Success Support (Student Success Center, Veterans, LGBTQ, International and others)
Fundraising and Alumni Engagement (Rise. Shine. Campaign)
Applied Research and Business/Industry Engagement (WSRI, WSARC, Commercialization)
Branding/Marketing (address a highly competitive market and grow our national visibility)
State-designated Centers of Excellence (focus on CELIA, Neuroscience and Human Innovation)
From 2013 to today, we have faced another round of reduced state support. It has come in the form of reduced SSI, capital, research challenge, Ohio College Opportunity Grants (OGOG), and mandated tuition constraints. We have taken the opportunity to share these challenges with the Faculty Senate and Staff Council multiple times over the last three years. Once again, we have strategically utilized our reserves to smooth the impact on our people and campus and continue investing in key strategic initiatives. At the beginning of fall 2015, it was clear with the mandated zero percent tuition increase for FY16 and FY17, projected flat SSI support, modest enrollment growth, and a sporadic economy, that we, once again, had a “Nut to Crack” in our base budget.
Initially, in the fall of 2015, we instituted a four-pronged approach to whittle away at the “Nut.” This involved
more discipline in strategic hiring;
improved central oversight to control overspending;
better capital project oversight; and
improved space utilization.
On November 20, 2015, we met with the Faculty Budget Oversight Committee in a three-hour meeting to share the trend data and the financial challenges we were facing. On January 22, 2016, in the public Board of Trustees Finance Committee, we discussed the framework for a budget remediation plan. On February 12, I announced at the public Board of Trustees meeting that Provost Sudkamp and VP for Business and Finance Jeff Ulliman were being charged to develop a campus-wide budget remediation plan by soliciting input from all campus constituents and that we would share the plan and all its details with the campus community during our annual Budget Workshop on June 2, 2016.
I reiterated this approach with the Faculty Senate during the March 14 meeting, and Provost Sudkamp reminded everyone about the importance of maintaining our focus on the upcoming March 21-22 HLC visit. Following the HLC visit, we initiated our campus process by meeting with Faculty Senate Leadership on March 30 to discuss guiding principles and the details of a process to strengthen our budget.
The following principles will guide the development and implementation of our plan:
Must be people-friendly and preserve salaries and benefits as much as possible.
Must support the ongoing quality of WSU’s academic enterprise and support student success.
Must preserve and expand sources of revenue.
Should not result in indiscriminate hiring freezes or elimination of strategic investments.
The plan cannot call for across-the-board cuts but instead must focus on targeted reductions.
It should retain flexibility but eliminate duplication of efforts across units.
It should maintain best practices of business services, and it must honor a culture of compliance and stewardship.
We met on March 31 with Vice Presidents and Deans to discuss the process, provide trend data, and initiate a reduction exercise, just as we had in 2010. They were assigned an 8 percent reduction target for the exercise as we continued to identify more precisely our “Nut.” They were asked to respond to the following questions:
How would you reduce your unit’s 2016 base budget by 8 percent?
What initiatives and projects will create additional revenue in the next two years?
What suggestions do you have to enhance collaboration with other units or to reduce duplication to improve efficiency in providing services?
On April 5, we met with Staff Council and on April 6 with the combined Faculty Senate Executive Committee and Budget Oversight Committee to discuss principles and process and solicited their help in responding to questions #2 and #3 from above. We have asked for feedback on these questions from faculty and staff by Monday, April 18.
Later today, we will meet with our Cabinet and Deans’ Council to discuss the projected “Nut,” responses to questions posed, and provide unit targets to restructure our base budget over the next two fiscal years (FY17 and FY18).
Based on projected revenue and one-time expenditures, our “Nut” is approximately 6 percent (our exercise was 8 percent) of our base budget, not substantially different from the 4 percent we took on in 2010. However, we will reduce this challenge over a two-year period (FY17: 4 percent, and FY18: 2 percent), not losing sight of our need to explore all opportunities of our top principle of being people-friendly. In addition, we will engage in a number of one-time strategies to replenish our reserves in the next year. This will be discussed on June 2.
While we have kept our faculty and staff representatives up-to-date over the last year, we now want to share the challenge more broadly to get your ideas and suggestions. As we did in 2010, the final solution to cracking our present-day “Nut” will reflect the unique roles of our entire Wright State University family: faculty, staff, students, and our larger community.
I want to thank the faculty and staff who have already responded to our request for ideas on how we might best address these financial times and maintain our momentum. With your help, our leadership team will craft a plan to help navigate through this “New Normal” time for public research universities.
As we have done before, we will keep our focus on our core mission and our unwavering commitment to provide an affordable, high-quality education for those with potential and the drive to succeed.
David R. Hopkins
And the rebuttal:
To President David Hopkins and the Wright State University Board of Trustees:
In light of what has been happening at our University, the weekly e-mails we receive from President Hopkins paint a picture that bears little resemblance to reality. The former Provost has been on paid leave for nearly a year. Now we are told there is a major budget crisis. Yet, thus far and in typical fashion, the administration has directed the deans to plan for an 8% budget cut but otherwise has not shared any substantive information.
If the administration had bothered to share financial information in a meaningful way, perhaps the alleged crisis could have been averted. Instead, the administration spent years talking about budgetary transparency and MDA (and our magnificent salt barn!) All the while, apparently none of the extraordinarily well-paid administrators was minding the store and the Board was paying no attention. Year after year, now-departed Vice President Polatajko delivered a dog and pony show in his annual budgetary presentation to the Board, reported that we were spending money on new initiatives, and gave no hint that a budgetary storm was coming. What has been the return, monetary or otherwise, on our new initiatives? Apparently, not enough to offset the supposed financial crisis that has prompted the administration to ask the Deans to submit plans for 8% cuts in their colleges.
Several million dollars have been budgeted on a branding campaign. The administration disseminated a new logo, realized it looked like the logo for a local recycling company, and withdrew it. Of course, branding is supposed to be about more than just a logo. But have there been any tangible returns on our investment? We are confident that Wright State’s reputation is at a long-time low, branding campaign notwithstanding.
Millions have been spent on a consultant, and that in turn prompted the Ohio Speaker of the House — one of our alumni no less — to announce publicly that House members should use caution when dealing with Wright State. Clearly there were negative returns for that expenditure.
Millions are spent subsidizing intercollegiate athletics, when there is no evidence that students come to Wright State for athletics. In fact, in a recent survey, playing sports was the least significant reported factor in recruitment of students. Of course, the real test would be to ask our students whether they would rather have their tuition decreased by $500 a year or keep intercollegiate athletics. Meanwhile, the administration routinely allows intercollegiate athletics to overrun its already swollen budget. If that is not bad enough, a million dollars was spent building a football field so that a few male students would have a fancy venue for their games when 58% of our students are female. To top it off, the Athletic Director was allowed to fire the men’s basketball coach, who had two years left on his contract. So now we will be paying someone else for two years for doing absolutely nothing!
Millions have been spent on stipends, which is not surprising since WSU has over thirty individuals whose title includes president or provost (e.g., vice president, associate provost) and over forty whose title includes dean, many receiving stipends in addition to their base salaries. Why do we need so many administrators, and why do many of these individuals receive stipends when they are already among the highest paid employees at the University?
The administration and the board have taken on a multimillion dollar liability to hold a presidential debate at Wright State. If the massive funding needed does not materialize, how many employees will have to be furloughed? How many students won’t be able to take the classes they need to graduate?
Meanwhile, faculty and students — the heart of the university — suffer the consequences for these gross failures of leadership. Even more troubling than the firing of the basketball coach, the former provost sits at home collecting a very substantial salary, and we still don’t know whether the reasons for his suspension are only apparent misdeeds, or will actually be subject to prosecution as federal felonies, or something in between. All the while we raise tuition, and our students go deeper and deeper into debt. We admit students who we know have virtually no chance of academic success but take their money anyway, while offering almost no need-based scholarships. Our most distinguished faculty are awarded modest raises and ordered to stop printing handouts that might help those students.
It is time to come clean with the University community before we are forced to redesign our logo again to show the Wright Flyer crashing into the ground.
Very soon, you will receive recommendations from us regarding cuts in expenditures that can be made without imperiling the academic core of the University.
But in the meantime, we have questions.
Who is responsible for the alleged financial crisis, and will anyone be held accountable? What is its real magnitude? What are its causes? Is the alleged shortfall due to overly optimistic estimates of revenue, or is it simply the result of out of control expenses?
Even if the reported financial problems are due in part to continuing reductions in state support, why have the problems been allowed to accumulate to the point where planning for an 8% reduction in the college budgets is suddenly necessary?
How much has Wright State spent investigating the H-1B visa scandal? The investigation by the administration has dragged on for more than a year while the University’s reputation has been dragged through the mud.
Why is Wright State one of only two state universities whose audits for 2015 have yet to be posted on the Ohio Auditor’s website?
Where are the Trustees? Has the Board exercised its fiduciary responsibility at all? How many Board members have benefited from the issuance of H1-B visas or nepotism?
What is going on at WSRI? We keep seeing statements about the millions in research dollars that WSRI and our consultants are bringing into the University, and yet our Carnegie ranking has dropped and each year the University continues to provide millions of dollars to subsidize WSRI.
And to repeat questions we raised above: What returns have we realized from our new initiatives? From the branding campaign? From our expenditures on consultants? From millions poured into intercollegiate athletics? And why does WSU have so many administrators, and of them why do so many receive stipends in addition to their salaries?
The faculty demands transparency and accountability, now.
On Behalf of the AAUP-WSU Executive Committee
It’s time to replace the Board, let Hopkins retire, fire the provost, and bring in professional managers. If the state of Ohio can come in and take over the Dayton Public Schools for poor performance, it should be able to take over a university that’s lost touch with reality.