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.

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