Wright State University’s Board of Trustees voted 7-1 to enact a mandatory furlough policy Friday, even as frustrated professors confronted the university’s leaders about proposed “draconian” cuts they say will erode the institution’s educational quality.
Wright State faces declining enrollment and higher health care costs while it grapples with the outlines of millions of dollars in cuts to avoid deficit spending and being put on a state fiscal watch, officials said.
“We must continue to be realists together while we maintain our passion for this university,” Douglas A. Fecher, chairman of the Board of Trustees, told dozens of faculty members and others gathered for the board meeting Friday. “We simply do not have access to the same level of resources that we once had in the past.”
Fecher said ignoring the economic situation will not make it go away.
“It will demand more hard choices and hard sacrifice,” he said. “Terrible decisions remain and they must be made.”
Last June, Wright State cut nearly $31 million out of its fiscal year 2018 budget in response to years of overspending, and to raise its reserve fund to $6 million. WSU needs to cut an additional $10.5 million because of enrollment issues, and to cover additional scholarship and fellowship costs, this newspaper has reported.
Members of the American Association of University Professors and faculty members rallied against the cuts Friday, saying they have diminished Wright State’s core mission of education by reducing instructors and classes and creating uncertainty and anxiety among faculty, staff and students.
Senate Faculty President Travis E. Doom told the board he and other faculty members have had questions from students about whether they would be able to complete their degree programs and how the cuts would impact their studies.
“This term, the university remarked in a prepared statement that there is no chance that Wright State University is going to close,” he said. “The fact that the university felt the need to make this statement is chilling. The fact that our community thought this was newsworthy is horrifying.”
The AAUP has said the administration has offered a three-year contract with no raises, reduced benefits and higher health care costs amounting to a pay cut.
Nearly 90 percent of AAUP members eligible to vote have voted yes on a strike authorization if a deal is not reached, according to the union. Unresolved bargaining issues include employment security and furloughs, teaching workloads, maintaining summer teaching opportunities, and proposals that would cut pay and health benefits, the labor organization says.
Dan Slilaty, a WSU mathematics professor and AAUP member, said Wright State had gone on a “budget-cutting spree” that protects administration and trustee priorities and “slashes” the university’s core mission.
He said about 580 faculty members who teach at the university account for about 17 percent of its budget.
“What we the faculty demand is that all future cuts to the university’s budget be made in the irresponsible, multi-million dollar athletic budget and the extreme salaries and bloat of the upper administration and in risky side ventures,” he said to audience applause.
“If a strike is the only way in which meaningful shared governance is going to happen, if a strike is the only way to stop this reckless disregard for the core mission of the university, then I will vote for a strike, and I believe my colleagues will as well,” he added.
Wright State has made no decision on furloughing employees, but the policy enacted Friday allows the university to impose unpaid days off work for non-union employees should they become necessary.
Any furloughs of AAUP members would have to be contractually negotiated, said Marty Kich, president of the Wright State chapter of the labor organization.
The university and the AAUP are headed to fact-finding in April, he said.
RELATED: Wright State swimming, diving supporters hire consultant to try to save teams Wright State Trustee Bruce Langos, the sole no vote on enacting the policy on mandatory furloughs, said non-bargaining unit support staff have taken enough cuts.
He added the university should spend more time finding new revenue sources.
“I think we have a high probability that we’re going to end up on fiscal watch and we need to make sure that we’re focused on that revenue growth,” he said in an interview. “We can’t put the entire problem on the backs of the employees. We need to be generating revenue.”
David M. Butkovinsky, a long-time WSU accounting professor and AAUP member, told trustees the cuts would hurt both students’ education and the retention and recruitment of faculty.
“The majority of the faculty believes the administration is using the threat of fiscal watch as a convenient excuse to reduce faculty compensation even though by the administration’s own admission, that threat has passed,” he said.