Wright State Board of Trustees | Photo by Sarah Cavender | The Wright State Guardian
Housing situations, enrollment concerns and the university’s budget were topics of discussion at the board of trustees finance, audit and infrastructure committee meeting Friday morning.
“The big focus that I want everyone to have, that we are all working towards and that I want everyone to have, is a focus in 2023. Where we have stability, where our university can thrive,” said Trustee Douglas Fetcher.
The university has decreased the potential deficit from $11.1 million to $1.5 million, according to Sommer Todd, director of University Fiscal Services.
“We are hoping that we will end up at a break even and potentially maybe even a small surplus,” said Todd.
“As we all know 30 days ago, even prior to that, when the coronavirus situation hit, it impacted the university’s financial situation in a way that none of us had expected,” said Greg Sample, executive vice president and chief operating officer. “To sit here today, at the point where we are and to look to see that we have reduced that potential deficit from $11.1 million down to $1.5 million, and we have still about 45 days to go in the budget year is phenomenal.”
Thanking the community
Sample reiterated that they are reporting the information, but the progress is the result of the university community coming together.
“We effectively pulled a parking break on the universities spending as we were going down the road at 20 miles an hour,” said Sample. “It’s phenomenal that we are where we are, but the thanks goes out to the entire Wright State community.”
Sample is completely optimistic that with 45 days to go, they can move this situation from a completely negative, to a neutral, to a positive by the end of the fiscal year.
In the months following the pandemic and the closure of the university, President Sue Edwards has asked certain leaders to voluntarily reduce work time to save the university salary dollars. Jerry Hensley, CaTS web accessibility coordinator, asked if this was baked into the numbers.
According to Sommers, the reduction in salary dollars is not yet included in the numbers.
“Based upon the rough estimates that we have… it’s roughly around 250,000 dollars,” said Edwards.
“So it’s a relatively small number,” said Hensley.
“But over two months it’s half a million,” said Edwards. “It’s much appreciated and it does help us going down the road and we are very thankful for all of those staff that are participating in that particular enterprise.”
“We are still losing more revenue than we are in cost savings,” said Steve Sherbet, university bursar. “That is primarily because of enrollment decreases. There has been a trend of enrollment going down and with coronavirus acting as a sort of catalyst, the concern there is that enrollment could drop even more quickly.”
Sherbet shared the importance of developing new strategies to employ for enrollment and retention, but particularly enrollment.
“There is a lot of talk on the expense side, and revenue is something that we have to work on too,” said Trustee Marty Grunder. “I am very excited to see what Mr. Durkle (chief recruitment and admissions officer) can do.”
Issues in contract approvals
All contracts were not officially approved, but moved forward for a future approval in June.
A specific contract with Baker and Hostetler requested an additional $400,000 to cover payments for legal services for the AAUP – WSU contract negotiations.
Bruce Langos pointed out that this did not come back to the board for the proper approval.
“If anybody should be following the rules of the process here that were established, it should be the law department,” said Langos. “Not having the proper approvals and information and so forth is really unacceptable for whoever is doing this sort of thing. It’s unfortunate that this would come to us the way that it has. It was completely preventable, I just don’t like seeing things like this.”
Larry Chan,vice president for legal affairs and general counsel, took responsibility for the approval of amounts without going through the proper steps.
“I apologize to the board, it was my oversight with regard to any authorization amounts,” said Chan.
Chan then continued to explain about the initial approval and assured the board that the mistake would not happen again.
The university is currently negotiating with AM management for their housing contract for next year. They are in the process of cleaning up the contract and adjusting to situations involving the coronavirus.
“There was not a single university… which was prepared to take on the responsibility of dealing with students that may have been impacted by the pandemic and tested positive,” said Sample. “So we’ve learned our lessons and are collectively knocking on wood, figuratively, that we did not have a big outbreak at Wright State.”
“Both sides (Wright State and AM management) need to be owning their respective responsibilities in the event that one of our students does test positive in the fall or in the following spring,” said Sample.
The Board of Trustees expressed concerns about certain situations that may arise in the future such as housing only being 75 percent full, WSU not projecting accurately the number of students returning to housing, and potentially having a second round of the coronavirus outbreak.
Sample assured the board that under a new contract, WSU would not be under liability.
“We were at potential risk in the current contract because of the coronavirus situation,” said Sample. “Had a student, in AM management, tested positive for coronavirus, there was ambiguity in the contract as to whose financial responsibility it was to provide that student with isolation and other services necessary. That is one of the areas we are cleaning up in the AM management contract.”
WSU leadership vows that they will do all that they can to sustain the university in the long run. Additionally, Sample says that the positive remediation efforts are due to efforts all across campus.
“This is a result of the university coming together,” said Sample.
“I want to see it [the institution] succeed,” said Sherbet. “I know it can succeed. We will look different in the future no doubt about it. But many other institutions are going to look different going forward too. So we need to find that shared vision of what Wright State will look like moving forward where we will still provide a vital service to our southwest Ohio community and raider country and move forward into the future.”