President M. Duane Nellis

OU President M. Duane Nellis was among the speakers at the 2019 9/11 Interfaith Peace Walk.

In late March, professors at Ohio University received welcome news: The university’s previously announced personnel cuts were paused due to the ongoing pandemic.

However, those halting measures have been lifted by top university administration as the state prepares to reopen the economy following a lengthy stay-at-home order from Gov. Mike DeWine. On Tuesday, the university community received a letter from OU’s president discussing the multiple fund-saving measures he has directed the institution to implement.

Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis and Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Sayrs will be taking 15 percent pay cuts and no bonus’ this year, an equivalent to a 39-day furlough, as well as a number of university-wide budget-saving measures.

“These are important first steps that will provide limited short-term savings,” Nellis wrote. “But, speaking with candor and in fairness to our University community, they will fall far short of filling the anticipated gap. Unavoidably, this global crisis will force permanent changes in communities worldwide, including here at Ohio University. It will touch every area of the University, and it will have a difficult and direct impact on us all.”

Nellis earns over $489,000 annually, and Sayrs’ position pays $378,750 annually. Last July, Nellis was awarded a $72,000 bonus, alongside a $7,000 raise, despite concerns of the lower enrollment rates and lower high school graduation numbers from across the state.

Nellis’ pay cut will amount to about $73,400 — leaving him with a salary of about $415,953.

There are two other employees with salaries higher than Nellis’s — Mens Basketball Coach Jeffrey Boals, who reportedly earns about $581,000 annually, and head Football Coach Frank Solich, who brought home around $525,000 last year. There have been minimal cuts to the athletics budget, although academic colleges were asked to cut about $30 million through anticipated layoffs of around 300 faculty.

In early March, the OU chapter of the American Association of University Professors called on Nellis and his administration to stop personnel cuts during the pandemic, which he complied with until this latest announcement. The cuts have mostly been attributed to the dropping enrollment numbers.

Student refunds have also hit the university’s budget — in Nellis’s letter to the university he sent Tuesday, he noted that refunds from housing, dining and parking fees have amounted to over $18 million. Last week, OU announced that Shively Dining Hall will be closed for the upcoming fall semester, which the university estimates will save about $1 million. In addition, the cancellation of study abroad trips has also cost the university.

“In the days following the arrival of COVID-19 in Ohio and our decision to move the remainder of our spring semester to remote and virtual instruction, we made a commitment to pause budget-related personnel actions that had been considered prior to the pandemic as we assessed our new reality,” Nellis wrote. “Every day, we receive more information about the breadth of revenue losses that this pandemic will bring to our University. It is evident that all of the University’s revenue sources will be impacted by this crisis.”

While the state’s usual distributions have not yet been cut, Gov. DeWine has instructed his agency directors to identify budget cuts up to 20 percent for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends with June. The new budget will begin July 1, and those cuts are expected for that year as well.

“A 20 percent reduction would result in somewhat over an $8 million reversion in our state funding for the current fiscal year and a reduction of approximately $35 million in FY21,” Nellis wrote.

The university is not facing the post-pandemic economy with no aid, however: Federal funding from the CARES Act will provide the institution with $9.7 million in aid, as well as an additional $9.7 million for emergency grants. OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said more details on the next steps concerning that aid will be shared on May 1.

Nellis also shared that OU’s alumni and friends have started a student aid fund, with over $165,000 immediately available for grant funds.

“Still, recessionary pressure is likely to put a strain on fundraising, and market performance has already impacted the value of the endowments that fund scholarships, research, programs, and more,” Nellis wrote. “As we face these realities, federal funding to Ohio University through the CARES Act will provide some funding to offset our losses. However, it will fall far short of filling a growing gap.”

Immediate steps the university has taken to stem the outward flow of revenue include:

  • A hiring freeze for all but critical positions, however, critical positions should be filled by restructuring and hiring will be approved by a hiring review committee.
  • Suspension of employee recognition awards
  • Suspension of required reviews, except for reviews that are part of a structural reorganization as increases would be offset by the personnel costs.
  • Review of all in-progress capital projects and suspension of all new capital projects
  • Limits on operational spending

Nellis assured the community that the university will support “impacted employees” through its decisions.

Our promise to you is that ... we will remain committed to protecting our academic strength and the unmatched experience that we have delivered to students for centuries,” Nellis wrote. “It is for our students, both current and future, that we must persevere in the face of change, holding on to that sense of purpose that defines and unites us all as members of the Ohio University community.”

The OU chapter of the AAUP has, in response, issued a form letter to be sent to Speaker of the Ohio House Larry Householder, an OU alum.

“President Nellis is seriously considering laying off hundreds of Instructional Faculty at OHIO as a measure to help balance the university’s budget,” the letter states. “Rather than seriously considering proportional cuts to bureaucracy, administration, and non-academic units, President Nellis is instead targeting those faculty who teach the most students for the lowest pay. I write to you today to urge you to intervene, on behalf of all alumni and on behalf of all Ohio taxpayers who fund this institution.”

The OU-AAUP have asked the university repeatedly to start its budget cuts in non-academic budget areas, resulting in demonstrations beginning in Fall 2019.

“The instructional faculty at OU are the university’s front-line instructors, and incredibly valuable to students and the community. Athens–indeed, Southeast Ohio–can not sustain the loss of hundreds of these jobs,” the form letter read. “This kind of employment crisis creates an economic burden on local businesses, particularly because many of these laid off professors will likely have to move their entire families away from Southeast Ohio altogether to seek new employment.”

The OU-AAUP also released a statement on Tuesday concerning the administration’s letter.

“OU-AAUP welcomes President Nellis’s announcement that he and EVPP Sayrs will take a temporary 15 percent reduction of their base salaries as well as forego their annual performance bonuses,” the group wrote. “We note this reduction still leaves President Nellis with a rather substantial base salary of approximately $404,998. Also, Ohio University has several other extremely well-compensated executive administrators and head coaches. Will they also be taking substantial voluntary salary reductions?

“In its statement of principles, OU-AAUP has called for significant and permanent reductions of the base pay of executive administrators and upper-level athletics personnel and a halt to any further administrative hiring as first steps in responding to our financial crisis,” the statement continued. “We insist moreover that any further austerity actions occur only with the meaningful and effective involvement of faculty representatives in the decision-making process.”

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