Ohio University

Ohio University Board of Trustees Stand Firmly Behind President Nellis and his Leadership Team

Published: May 11, 2020 Author: Staff reports

The Ohio University Board of Trustees independently released the following press release today, Monday, May 11:

Ohio University Board of Trustees Stand Firmly Behind President Nellis and his Leadership Team 
Unprecedented challenges related to COVID-19 require bold decisions and immediate action 

Today, the Ohio University Board of Trustees reaffirmed their support of President M. Duane Nellis based on his strong performance, progress aligned to the implementation of the strategic framework and for the leadership stability and continuity he and his team are providing during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Industries across the United States, including higher education, are facing unprecedented challenges at rapid speed due to this global pandemic. Leading in a crisis requires careful planning, difficult decision-making, exceptional teamwork and immediate yet coordinated execution to ensure long-term viability and competitiveness in today’s deeply uncertain environment. Implications from COVID-19 are significantly impacting finances across every industry, including higher education – and Ohio University is not immune.

“The Ohio University Board of Trustees stand firmly behind President Nellis and his leadership team in their commitment to transparency, efforts to encourage collaboration and a collective development of a strong strategic vision to navigate these unparalleled times so Ohio University can emerge as a leader in higher education,” said Dave Scholl, Chairman of the Ohio University Board of Trustees. 

In the past year, substantial progress has been made on key strategic initiatives with the diligent and persistent work of the faculty and valuable support provided by administrative leadership and staff. The Trustees recognize and appreciate these ongoing contributions made by these valuable and dedicated members of the faculty and broader University employees.

President Nellis called for the combination of collaborative work and leadership across the University’s shared governance structure, which produced One OHIO, a major strategic initiative to fully integrate all of OHIO’s campuses under one leadership model. When fully implemented, this initiative will strengthen and unite the University’s campuses, academic strategy, and ensure accountability for student success, quality of experience, and physical footprint. President Nellis also enthusiastically supported the faculty’s desire to review and reform the general education curriculum, which had not been addressed in 40 years. Similarly, he emphasized a need for investment in instructional innovation and digital transformation as a major campus-wide initiative, contributing to a more rapid and effective transition for students and faculty to move toward online learning much earlier than expected during the COVID-19 crisis. With student achievement being top of mind, President Nellis also established the OHIO Honors Program, a new, experience-based program that offers a rapidly expanding menu of curricular and co-curricular experiences that guide students’ development and lead to a senior capstone project and portfolio. He also created a heightened experiential learning opportunity through the Presidential Scholars program, an elite society of student volunteers who give their time and talents to advance Ohio University’s priorities and initiatives.

The President, his leadership team and the Board of Trustees remain solidly committed to making the best, albeit difficult decisions and investments through strategic use of reserves, to position the University for a strong future, as in the case of the above major initiatives. 

Nonetheless, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered OHIO’s operations and financial position in ways that were unimaginable at the beginning of this year. “OHIO is certainly not unique in this regard,” Scholl offered, “and President Nellis is not the only University President leading institutions forward under such disruptive and challenging scenarios.”

“As an OHIO Trustee for eight years and an alumnus of this great University, I have learned that a university president and executive leadership frequently operate in a relatively threatening environment, even when operations are smooth, enrollments are high, and alumni are pleased,” said Scholl. “Inclusive of the distractions, and challenges, how President Nellis leads is essential to the university’s future and its impact on the Ohio Appalachian Region. The Trustees are confident that President Nellis’ steady, consistent and resolute leadership for the state and the region has been indispensable in this period of unmatched volatility for higher education, the University, and society under strained and highly uncertain economics brought on by the pandemic.”

Change is taking place rapidly in public higher education nationally, with much of that change driven by restrictive funding impacting a traditional business model. There is a clear need to re-design the enterprise to be more agile and nimble in how it delivers education and value-driven in how it provides educational, research and service value to students, faculty, staff and the public. President Nellis is leading that effort at Ohio University and the Trustees have been clear in their support for this to happen.

General financial trends below indicate a consistent erosion of resources from state subsidies, placing more pressure on tuition revenue and financial aid (including support provided via philanthropy) to solve for the reduction in state funding:

  • Ohio’s higher education state appropriations increased by over twice the inflation rate from FY 1980 to 2000, but then increased by LESS than a quarter of the inflation rate from FY 2000 to FY 2020. 
  • In FY 2010, Ohio’s support for the state subsidy for instruction (SSI) was $1.987 billion and its support for other higher education programs was $508.2 million for a total of $2.495 billion. This total is less than the FY 2001 total of $2.518 billion with SSI inflating marginally and the other category declining by nearly 30%. 
  • Compared to FY 2010, in FY 2020, SSI had grown by only 0.6% to $1.999 billion while the “other” higher education category had increased to $692.6 million for a total of $2.691 billion. This is a 7.866% increase over 10 years. The inflation rate from 2010 to 2020 is an estimated 18.37%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

In addition, higher education as a whole is undergoing a fundamental shift. The number of incoming students is beginning to flatten, diversify, and decline nationwide after decades of consistent growth. In response, universities have become more competitive in their pursuit of students, increasing the institutional cost of student financial aid and scholarships.  

The way in which students pursue their education has also changed. There are an increasing number of “non-traditional” students – those who are taking all of their classes online, or not doing so immediately after high school. More and more students are taking advantage of programs like College Credit Plus in high school, reducing the number of hours they need to take at a university. These changes and others are why we must proactively realign our university, including the budget, to ensure we are providing a cutting-edge educational opportunity for our students. More recently, COVID-19 related factors are now impacting our revenue base and the expected loss of resources must be addressed:

  • The State of Ohio recently cut higher-education budget by $110 million over two months; an immediate, unexpected decrease to Ohio University of $6.6 million.
  • The University has been advised to anticipate a major cut in SSI in the fall, such that if instituted at the proposed 20% reduction would eliminate $35 million in SSI revenue for the upcoming budget year.
  • This past winter quarter, the University refunded pro-rated housing, dining and parking fees to students resulting in $18 million in lost revenue. 
  • University athletics experienced significant reductions in NCAA revenue distribution because of the cancellation of winter and spring NCAA championships and additional external revenue impacts (over $1 million this spring).
  • National surveys are indicating that recessionary pressure along with uncertainty related to the pandemic could alter college-going plans. According to a national survey from SimpsonScarborough, 20 percent of high school seniors say it is likely they will not go to college in the fall due to COVID. 

Under the exceptional leadership of Provost Dr. Elizabeth Sayrs, CFO and Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Deb Shaffer, their talented teams, and in consultation with the representative senate leaders, these difficult realities are being identified and confronted head-on as they affect the academic and administrative units and personnel levels of the University. 

“In the spirit of shared governance, the process of developing and modifying the strategic framework that was articulated in September 2019 demanded broad input from across the academy and so does its successful implementation,” said Scholl. “However, decisions and actions required to implement sustainable solutions to structural, financial, and staffing reform in response to trends that influence revenue or the significant negative financial impact of COVID-19 must ultimately remain the purview of the President and senior executive leadership. The risk to the Institution and the Region if we did not act now to significantly reduce expenses in a balanced manner is unfortunately too great.” 

During these uncertain times, and looking forward, President Nellis is focused on several key priorities: 

  • Safety and well-being of all to protect from COVID-19 and develop “return to campus” scenario planning.
  • Academic success for students and faculty, and “return to class” scenario planning.
  • Support students to complete their educations.
  • Attract new students through virtual recruiting efforts. 
  • Protect the finances to weather the crisis and position OHIO for a strong future.
  • Establish transition services for University employees displaced by budget-reducing personnel decisions.  
  • Continue to openly support and engage with faculty on solutions for the future of Ohio University.

President Nellis is skillfully navigating many critical issues,” according to Scholl, “while continually displaying presidential core values of constructive engagement and dialogue, integrity, civility and a decisiveness driven by data, broad input, and the potential to achieve positive transformation by attending Ohio University. There is certainly much to consider and many to engage when considering so many unknowns. However, the Trustees are  especially pleased to know the President is recommending resources be earmarked to develop transition services to provide dedicated coaching and tailored assistance geared toward the higher education sector to help with networking and career counseling to those most affected by the recent need to reduce the University’s workforce.”