Wright State president to recommend up to 113 faculty positions be eliminated

Wright State University President Susan Edwards is expected to recommend the university eliminate up to 113 faculty positions in the school’s retrenchment efforts, according to a letter she wrote to the Board of Trustees.

The recommendations will be presented to the Board of Trustees on Friday. The Board will then make a final decision based on Edward’s recommendations.

“With the board’s approval of this recommendation, I will immediately engage the new interim provost to work with our deans to finalize a list of 113 specific faculty positions identified to be eliminated/retrenched,” Edwards wrote in the letter.

Affected faculty members will receive up to 18 months of notice and workforce displacement support, according to documents examined by the Dayton Daily News. The university has provided similar support to employees who were previously laid off, according to university documents. The institution cut 50 positions last summer, in addition to 30 employees who agreed to retire early.

More than 600 people currently teach at the university, but not all of them are faculty members. Initial notice was sent to the AAUP-WSU executive committee and the Faculty Senate in November, the university said.

In her letter to the board, Edwards said she was provided separate detailed recommendations. One set was submitted by Interim Provost Douglas W. Leaman and the others were provided by the Joint Committee on Retrenchment.

Wright State has seen enrollment decrease over the last few years that has led to large revenue losses.

In his report to Edwards, Leaman, who is leaving the university on Feb. 21, said “the recent declines in first-year enrollment make it virtually certain that our overall enrollment will continue to decline through at least 2023. At that point, multiple forecast models indicate that enrollment will be approximately 8,000 to 10,000. Peer institutions with enrollment in that range employ circa 375 faculty; Wright State currently employs 489. Simply put: the size of our academic workforce is greater than what is necessary (or even customary, among our peers) based on our current and expected enrollment. The university must adapt.”

The school’s enrollment in 2017 was around 17,000 students. Enrollment has declined by more than 30% in the last five years, according to the university.

On Friday, Edwards is also expected to recommend to the board the university spend up to $1 million in the current academic year on enrollment and retention efforts.

“If the Board authorizes the additional expenditure, I will consult with Faculty Senate on ways faculty can engage to the greatest effect. Last year the University supported Faculty Senate initiated efforts around specific faculty-led recruitment and retention efforts and this additional investment can build off of that foundation,” Edwards’ letter says.

Oliver H. Evans was named the new interim provost Wednesday. Evans has more than 30 years of administrative experience in higher education, including through major organizational changes, faculty and staff reductions, academic reorganizations and issues with enrollment, a Wright State press release said.

Wright State said in a press release that its decision to invoke the agreed-upon process for bargaining unit faculty workforce reductions is its latest effort to implement initiatives aimed at preserving the university’s ability to continue fulfilling its educational mission and serving its students.

Prior initiatives have included steep budget realignments, new operational expense controls, alignment of limited resources to critical needs, non-bargaining-unit workforce reductions and the elimination and attrition of numerous administrative positions.

The university has managed to remain afloat financially by making cuts, including layoffs in recent years. But the COVID-19 pandemic has added to its financial hardship.

As a result, the university will generate less revenue in the next couple of fiscal years, the school said during its Board of Trustees meeting in September. The institution is expecting revenues for the upcoming year to be about $25.6 million below this fiscal year’s actual revenues, according to documents from the meeting. Officials are also projecting a net operating deficit of $11.7 million for 2021, the document says.

In June, the Board of Trustees approved a Fiscal Year 2021 budget with expected revenues of $210 million, down from revenue of about $257 million.

That same month, school leaders expected a budget surplus of $1 million by the end of the current fiscal year. However, long-term demographic, educational and enrollment trends are not on the institution’s side, Greg Sample, the university’s chief operating officer said at the time.

Edwards said in her letter to the board this was not an easy decision.

“The Dayton Region needs a Wright State that they are proud of, and one that ensures the surrounding communities thrive,” Edwards said. “I acknowledge that change is sometimes painful, but we will succeed by working together.”

AAUP-WSU faculty president Noeleen McIlvenna said she was “bewildered that they would choose to do this now.”

“I’m disappointed. We just saw in the committee reports that they are going to have a surplus of $7 million this year, which was supposed to be one of the terrible years. So right up to the last minute I’d hoped they wouldn’t do this. And we hope it doesn’t send a bad message, you know, to the community to the students who are planning to come,” she said.

McIlvenna said she has deep concerns about the process.

“I think they don’t like the concept of tenure, the concept that they can’t fire people at will. They’re hoping to get a cheaper workforce. I mean, this is what this will lead to in a couple of years. I understand that in a business, your profit is your marker of success, but in a public institution, educated people are your marker of success. You’re not trying to make a profit. You have to manage the money and you can’t lose any,” she said.