The Ohio University Board of Trustees met Monday, May 11 in a virtual space, but the decisions they made — increasing tuition for graduate students, rejecting a union agreement and giving President M. Duane Nellis further power while affirming his “strong performance,” to name a few — will have a direct impact on the university community.
The Trustees mostly voted in accordance with the agenda as laid out, only voting down one measure that, until 140 union workers were laid off this month, was expected to easily pass. That measure was an agreement with OU’s collective bargaining unit, AFSCME Local 1699, which would have created a new deal for janitorial and culinary staff. The previous agreement expired on March 1.
The layoff resulted in a protest, conducted via motorcade, by the groups affected by the current and proposed cuts. The group asked for a hiring freeze, a cap on administrative salaries and for those whose jobs were cut to be rehired or not fired.
An interim furlough plan is expected by the end of the week, according to Vice President of Finance Deborah Shaffer. She told the board that reconsidering the tentative agreement would be in OU’s best interest, and that the new furlough policy will be “tiered” and “based on compensation or salary level.” She noted this will replace an “original” policy that would have implemented widespread cuts.
The university’s budget for next year has not yet been released, but is expected to take into account a lower state share of instruction for the institution. Shaffer noted that she expects the university to face a $65 million deficit in the next year.
The Trustees also voted to freeze undergraduate tuition, an effort to lure more students to the university in the face of a history of lower enrollment numbers, and projections about the upcoming year’s numbers have been low as well.
Meanwhile, the OU chapter of the American Association of University Professors helped publicize the work of a “concerned group of faculty.” The group had created an open source alternative budget project that would address the budget deficit without layoffs.
“The initial alternative budget model that is laid out in the document serves as a way to get the conversation started; it saves $65.2 million this year alone and enacts $45.2 million in permanent administrative cuts, all without laying off a single person this year, hiring back all 160 AFSCME workers that were laid off, and hiring back all Academic workers whose contracts were non-renewed in the last academic year,” OU-AAUP stated in a press release. “In short, we can address the full deficit facing Ohio University without a single layoff.”
The budget, as currently presented, would:
- Reverse above inflation increases in salaries of top 250 administrators since 2011-12, which is estimated to save $8.3 million
- Over a three year period, additionally reverse above inflation increases in administrative spending since 2011-12, estimated to save $28.5 million
- Over a four year period, shrink faculty with attrition, estimated to save $19.3 million
- Limit student athletic subsidy to $540 per main campus undergraduate, allowing all athletes to retain tuition scholarships, estimated to save $11.1 million
- Graduate furlough of employees, estimated to save $44.8 million
The plan, according to the faculty which developed it, will allow for $64.2 million to be saved just in the next year. Permanent savings would amount to $67.2 million, according to the open source budget document.
However, the Trustees statement of support of President Nellis goes on to discuss budgetary concerns, but rejected that the recent layoffs were not necessary, in addition to the expected upcoming layoffs that faculty believe will include some of their own.
“Under the exceptional leadership of Provost Dr. Elizabeth Sayrs, CFO and VP of Administration Deb Shaffer, their talented teams, and in consultation with the representative senate leaders, these difficult realities are being identified and confronted head-on as they affect the academic and administrative units and personnel levels of the University,” the release stated, referencing the lower stipend of state funding; refunding housing, dining and parking fees to students due to COVID-19; cancellation of athletics which the university expects to cost a loss of over $1 million in revenue; and expected even lower enrollment numbers as the economy forces students to rethink the investment of college.
The Board of Trustees noted in its press release supporting Nellis that swift budgetary actions need to come faster than the Board can respond, and so support his actions.
“In the spirit of shared governance, the process of developing and modifying the strategic framework that was articulated in September 2019 demanded broad input from across the academy and so does its successful implementation,” said Scholl in the same release. “However, decisions and actions required to implement sustainable solutions to structural, financial, and staffing reform in response to trends that influence revenue or the significant negative financial impact of COVID-19 must ultimately remain the purview of the President and senior executive leadership. The risk to the Institution and the Region if we did not act now to significantly reduce expenses in a balanced manner is unfortunately too great.”
The Board’s release stated that President Nellis will focus on
• Safety and well-being of all to protect from COVID-19 and develop “return to campus” scenario planning.
• Academic success for students and faculty, and “return to class” scenario planning.
• Support students to complete their educations.
• Attract new students through virtual recruiting efforts.
• Protect the finances to weather the crisis and position OHIO for a strong future.
• Establish transition services for University employees displaced by budget-reducing personnel decisions.
• Continue to openly support & engage with faculty on solutions for the future of Ohio University.
“President Nellis is skillfully navigating many critical issues while continually displaying presidential core values of constructive engagement and dialogue, integrity, civility and a decisiveness driven by data, broad input, and the potential to achieve positive transformation by attending Ohio University,” Board President Scholl said in the release.
“There is certainly much to consider and many to engage when considering so many unknowns,” he continued. “However, the Trustees are especially pleased to know the President is recommending resources be earmarked to develop transition services to provide dedicated coaching and tailored assistance geared toward the higher education sector to help with networking and career counseling to those most affected by the recent need to reduce the University’s workforce.”