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Retrenchment: What Is It and What Could It Mean For WSU?

Turning Points | Soham Parikh | The Wright State Guardian

Retrenchment is the process of laying off faculty members. This process is mutually agreed upon in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed by Wright State University (WSU) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP-WSU), and is currently unfolding amongst tenured faculty and administration at the university. 

Outlined in Article 17 of the CBA, retrenchment is the termination of faculty members during any appointment following one of three circumstances. 

Mutually agreed upon circumstances that may cause WSU to invoke retrenchment include financial exigency, significant reduction in enrollment of a College, Department or Program continuing over four or more academic semesters and which is expected to persist, or discontinuation of a College, Department or Program. 

Faculty Senate discussion on retrenchment

Currently, WSU is citing a significant reduction in enrollment over the course of eight academic semesters for its choice to invoke retrenchment procedures. 

“In terms of enrollment, Wright State University’s performance has not been good,” said Interim Provost Dr. Douglas Leaman while addressing the Faculty Senate in their meeting on Jan. 25. 

“While retrenchment can be invoked following just four semesters of declining enrollment, our data demonstrates well over eight semesters of decline. This is sobering. Over the last four years we have seen our enrollment decline from nearly 18,000 students, to 15,000, to 13,000, to 12,000 students,” Leaman said. 

While Leaman acknowledged the uncertainty to what WSU’s enrollment will reach in the future, he said that currently, there is no data demonstrating that enrollment will stabilize any time soon.

“Just looking at spring, we now see a documented decline of over 13% relative to spring 2020,” Leaman said.

Leaman went on to discuss ongoing restructuring occurring on the operational side of the university, where administrative operations are being resized to fit that of a university serving a significantly smaller population of students. 

“We’ve engaged with a firm to help compare our administrative operations to peer institutions,” Leaman said. “50 additional staff positions were eliminated in this current year’s budget plan. That brings the total number of staff and administrative position reductions to over 700 since 2016.” 

Leaman said that retrenchment is a proactive effort to ensure the university’s continued stability. 

“I believe the framers of the language contained in Article 17 recognized there were different operational reasons the university may need to retrench. That’s why three circumstances were crafted opposed to a single circumstance around budget,” Leaman said. 

Leaman, who is set to present a retrenchment recommendation to WSU President Dr. Sue Edwards alongside a separate plan presented by the retrenchment committee on Feb. 6, made it clear to Faculty Senators that while retrenchment will have an effect on the budget, as all personnel changes do, these numbers will not factor into his recommendation. 

“I want to make this very clear, this is probably the most important part of my time with you all here today,” Leaman said. “Budget targets are not a part of my analysis and will not factor into my recommendation.” 

Faculty Senator concerns

AAUP-WSU President Dr. Noeleen McIlvenna has maintained and expressed deep concerns about the effects of retrenchment since it’s public announcement in November of last year.  

During the Faculty Senate meeting on Jan. 25, McIlvenna once again raised these concerns. 

“The Federal and State governments have recently announced that they are coming to help us, and so in terms of rebuilding and preparing Wright State for the future, it seems to me that an announcement of retrenchment sets back all of the hard work we have been doing on recruitment and retention,” Dr. McIlvenna said.  

Leaman responded to McIlvenna’s concern by stating that he would not address numbers during the meeting due to the process that is currently in motion. 

“We are working within Article 17 and it has opportunities as necessary if the circumstances change to back off but the time frame involved and the severity of the decline we have observed is significant. Ultimately we are looking at these things and I will make my recommendation and then the process will play forward from there. I believe this is the appropriate process and I believe this is how we should be proceeding at this point in time,” Leaman said. 

Numerous other Faculty Senators in attendance raised concerns of their own to Leaman as the meeting continued to progress. 

“Is retrenchment going to be strategic so that programs who have lost more enrollment will have more faculty retrenched?” Senator Dr. Adrian Corbett asked. 

Leaman ensured Corbett that the strategy behind the retrenchment process will be data driven. 

“The short answer is yes, the long answer is I cannot unveil what the precise strategies are at this time,” said Leaman. 

Important dates

In his closing statements during the Faculty Senate meeting, Leaman discussed important dates over the following weeks in regard to retrenchment. 

“The timeline as I understand it is that the recommendations to the president from the provost and the Retrenchment Committee separately are due on Feb. 6. The president will then review the recommendations and formulate her decision which will result in a presentation to the Board of Trustees on Feb. 19. Once the board approves the recommendation or makes their decision, that information will be shared with college deans who will then work to implement that information. This is pushing us well into March by my estimation,” Leaman said. 

A full description of retrenchment and Article 17 are available in the AAUP-WSU and WSU Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Nicolas BenVenuto

News Editor

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