A group of “concerned faculty” have published a statement voicing many concerns with how Ohio University is compensating its upper management members in comparison to how the institution as a whole is faring.
Since Jan. 1, 2020, over 400 faculty members, in addition to classified and non-classified staff members, have lost their jobs. Hundreds more have faced cut backs — at least 88 employees, mainly faculty, accepted early retirement deals — and top administrators continue to receive bonuses (as promised in their contracts) and taken small cuts to salaries.
The university is the single largest employer in the region by a significant margin. One of the employees who has received the most scrutiny, Ohio University Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Deborah Shaffer, quietly accepted a $100,000 bonus in July, but recently told the Ohio University Board of Trustees that the university’s dire financial circumstances call for a “radical restructuring,” according to a group of concerned faculty members.
The faculty hail from virtually every college the University houses, from the School of Communication Studies and Department of Physics and Astronomy, to the School of Theater and Department of Education. The group noted that the statement is independent of any group currently on any of the university’s campuses.
In short, the faculty members had one message: right-size the administrative branches of the university and ensure administrative salaries are also appropriate for the university.
“(T)he origin of the university’s financial crisis lies in a failed business model that continues to guide executive decision-making, a model of ‘right-sizing’ that eliminates people who do the work of teaching, and directly support teaching, while continuing to sustain and even increase administrative bloat and exorbitant compensation packages at the executive level,” the group’s statement read. “When we hear the administration justify those exorbitant salaries by referencing peer institutions, while also acknowledging that many of our peers are similarly financially compromised, we know that this administration remains committed to the failed aspects of business as usual.”
The group pointed out that faculty and staff salaries have become a smaller portion of the overarching university budget since 2010.
“Costly mistakes have been made by leadership; but the consequences of those mistakes have been borne by the rest of us,” the group’s statement read. “This pattern cannot continue.”
Top administrative salaries have long been given close looks, but as the University continues to eye college-level budgets and proposals to close the “structural debt” of the university remain based on reducing the size of the faculty and resources for their teaching.
In May, both OU President M. Duane Nellis and OU Provost Dr. Elizabeth Sayrs took 15 percent salary reductions — which amounted to about $70,000 for Nellis and over $31,000 for Sayrs. They also both pledged to not accept a bonus during 2020, and Sayrs has waived her bonuses for Fiscal Year 2021 as well. The director of athletics, Julie Cromer has also waived her FY21 bonus.
However, on June 30, Senior VP of Finance and Administration, CFO and Treasurer of the university, Deb Shaffer, received a $100,000 retention bonus. She’s up for a second $100,000 retention bonus in 2023, along with President and CEO of The Ohio University Foundation, Nico Karagosian, who is set to receive a $95,000 retention bonus at the end of June 2022. Karagosian is set to receive $307,545 in salary during Fiscal Year 2021, Shaffer is set to receive $327,726.
The university’s top paid employees — Jeff Boals, men’s basketball coach, and Frank Solich, the head football coach — both bring in over $524,000 annually. They have not been listed on the Ohio University Executive Compensation website that was launched earlier this month. The website looks at the president’s council compensation and market comparisons; the council’s annual bonus amounts, retention bonuses and other allowances; compensation for academic deans and the furlough salary reductions for the council members and academic deans, in addition to a list of just deans.
Most of the “just” deans took a salary reduction of 10 percent or a flat amount. Those flat amounts ranged anywhere from $7,000, which Carey Busch, interim dean of the University College took, to $32,000 from Beth Longenecker, dean of the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. Notable callouts from the website include:
- Carey Busch, interim dean of the University College — $7,000 reduction of his $130,000 annual salary
- Florenz Plassmann, dean of the college of Arts and Sciences — 20 percent reduction of his $250,000 annual salary
- Brian (Scott) Titsworth, dean of Scripps College of Communication — 20 percent reduction of his $215,352 annual salary
- Nicole Pennington, executive dean of Regional Higher Education and Life Long Learning and Dean of Campus and Community Relations — 6.2 percent reduction of her $185,000 annual salary
- Renee Middleton, Dean of the Patton College of Education and Human Services — 6.92 percent reduction of her $230,659 annual salary
The website notes that bonuses were paid to members of President’s Council based on the availability of funds during FY20.
Most of the University’s vice presidents and other leadership took a 10 percent pay cut, with notable deviations from that being:
- Julie Cromer, director of Athletics — 15 percent reduction, amounting to $44,250 of her $295,000 annual salary
- Ken Johnson, executive dean of the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine — 12 percent reduction, amounting to $43,302 of his $360,853 salary
- Mary Jane “Gigi” Secuban, vice president of diversity and inclusion — 6.15 percent reduction, amounting to $11,809 of her $191,900 salary
The Board of Trustees was told during its October meeting that more than $290 million of revenue would be needed to balance the university’s budget over the next five years.
The Board members learned several ways the deficit could be addressed, including using money from the university’s reserves. However, even the biggest pool of money in the OU reserves would be used entirely in three years in one scenario presented to the Board. Another scenario would result in further layoffs and furloughs across the University.
The University has sought ways to increase it’s falling enrollment numbers over the past few years, with executives claiming there are fewer students seeking a college education. The university’s faculty have pushed back against that thought, saying in their statement that it is “clear that it is not external and immutable factors like a demographic cliff, or pull to urban schools, that are to blame for enrollment declines.”
“The evidence suggests that the pool of Ohio students entering college has remained consistent during the past 10 years but that since 2015 students have chosen other Ohio schools that marketed themselves as lower cost than Ohio University,” the statement continued. “And let us be clear: it is not faculty and staff salaries or direct academic expenditures that drove pricing here...Costly mistakes have been made by leadership; but the consequences of those mistakes have been borne by the rest of us. This pattern cannot continue.”
The group of faculty called for a change in how the university is structured and how much accountability is allowed through its structure.
“As we right-size administration and administrative salaries we need to move beyond the anemic model of shared governance now practiced to a new model of meaningful accountability of leadership to faculty and students,” the faculty group said. “Such a model requires that leadership take responsibility for the very large extent to which our current “crisis” has been self-inflicted.”