Ohio University

Information about Ohio University's budget planning process

Published: November 25, 2019 Author: Staff reports

The below message from Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis was shared with the campus community today.

Dear University Community,

Over the last several days, a great deal of misinformation has been circulating on campus about our University budget planning process. Some of this misinformation has been shared with the specific intent of causing disruption and without regard to what should be our shared priority — educating students and inspiring their success. 

I thought it was important for you to hear the truth from me, your President.

First and foremost, the claim that Ohio University is in a “financial crisis” does not reflect our reality. Ohio University has a strong financial position and significant monetary reserves, which provide us with the flexibility to invest strategically in our core academic mission and innovation. Thanks to our overall financial health, we are well poised to address higher education’s changing landscape and related challenges, to transform our students’ educational experience, and to evolve into a stronger and more nimble institution.

We are, however, in a critical moment that requires action. Over the last three years, Ohio University has seen a steady decline in overall enrollment. One driver of the decrease is smaller incoming freshman classes. In addition, graduating record-sized senior classes, increasing our four-year and three-year graduation rates, and growing participation in College Credit Plus among Ohio high schoolers means many students are leaving the University faster. These are good metrics for student success but have decreased our revenue because enrollment is the largest source of operational revenue for most institutions of higher education, including Ohio University.  Another factor in our declining revenue is a residual of our prior budget model —responsibility centered management or RCM — and its highly de-centralization approach, which resulted in assumed enrollment growth in some colleges' programs that, unfortunately, never materialized. 

Our commitment to our Ohio University Board of Trustees, and to our current and future students, must be to create an even more future-focused University while making operational adjustments in order to reduce dependency on reserves and ensure a sustainable institution for future students. We can and we must do this while remaining deeply focused on continuing to build a high-quality educational experience that prepares students for success through graduation and beyond.

Some of the misinformation has claimed that leadership is planning to “make up the budget deficit” by simply eliminating the majority of non-tenure track instructional faculty. Many of our instructional faculty are among our most inspiring and dedicated instructors. Such an approach would not be strategic and would be detrimental to the student experience. We will not pursue a sweeping, one-size-fits-all approach.

Some critics have shared a narrative claiming we can solve our problems by cutting all institutional funding for athletics programs. In my career, I have served as a faculty member, a dean, a provost and a president, and in each of those roles, I have interacted with student athletes and alumni who will tell you that participation in conference competition is central to their success as students and in life. Athletic competition also drives camaraderie that reaches far beyond our student athletes and plays a role in the strong sense of community that is part of the fabric of who we are as an institution. While athletics will be challenged to find operational efficiencies, as with all areas of the University, suggesting that the University eliminate the contribution it makes to student-athlete scholarships and student-athlete academic support is not, in my opinion, a solution focused on student success.

Suggestions that our challenges can be met with a singular solution, such as sweeping cuts to faculty positions or athletics support, attempt to pit one part of our community against another and to elicit fear.

Real solutions – the ones we will pursue – are the solutions that are in line with our Fearlessly First Strategic Framework, and that, most importantly, set aside our individual wants and needs to put our academic mission and the associated needs of students center stage. Real solutions are solutions that position this institution to meet the needs of students today and in the future. Real solutions will uplift our academic core, strengthen and focus our research and creative activity to increase our impact on communities, and make us more nimble, more innovative, more focused on the kind of experiential education that ensures personal transformation and post-graduate success.

As I said in my State of the University Address in September, I am looking for partners — students, faculty and staff — ready to join me in designing real solutions. 

I do not take lightly the very real concerns about the potential elimination of faculty or staff positions. Recognizing that human resources are by far our greatest expense, it will be necessary to reduce the number of full-time employees at Ohio University. We will look for opportunities to do that through strategic retirements, targeted voluntary separation agreements for tenured faculty, and the tactical elimination of most open positions in order to minimize the need for a reduction in force. We also are exploring the sunsetting of programs that don’t meet the needs or demands of today’s students, and we are discussing how we can streamline some business functions to be more efficient. Either could impact faculty or staff positions, but as described above, we will make every effort to reduce the negative impact on members of our community.

As a next step, we asked all vice presidents and academic deans to submit ideas and proposals for Reimagining the Academic Enterprise and for efficiency, and those are being reviewed and considered within the context of our Strategic Framework and with a focus on ensuring student success. As we have and will continue to do (like during last week’s Day of Engagement with the University community on Reimagining the Academic Enterprise), we will seek your input and constructive dialogue; and as decisions are made at the unit level or by leadership, we will communicate those with speed and transparency to anyone impacted. 

Ohio University is a strong, innovative, forward-thinking, student-centered institution. It always has been, and as long as I am serving as President, it will continue to be. The transformation we are undertaking is an opportunity to refocus our energy on what matters most — the success of our students. My leadership team and I will not be moved off that path. With your constructive engagement, together we will succeed not just in making it through this change but in making Ohio University better because of it. We owe that to each other, to the many students we serve now and to those we will serve in the decades to come.

Sincerely, and with a love for this great University and for all who have and will call it home.

M. Duane Nellis