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Trustees review drafts of five-year plans

Aug. 3, 2007
By Joe Brennan

During a retreat in Columbus today, members of the Ohio University Board of Trustees saw drafts of two preliminary, five-year plans and had a chance to give their initial feedback. The plans came in response to a request from the board at the last meeting.

President Roderick J. McDavis presented the board with a Vision OHIO implementation plan, including an action plan to achieve the university's strategic priorities. Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Decatur presented five-year projections of the institution's financial condition

At the start of the school year, the university community will have an opportunity to provide further input that will help shape final plans. McDavis and board Chair C. Daniel DeLawder both stressed that these are working documents and that faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders will be asked to comment before they are finalized. 

"We will engage all our constituents in conversations, starting at the beginning of the academic year," McDavis said.

The implementation plan lays out 76 specific actions needed to achieve the six broad goals identified by Vision OHIO: strengthening undergraduate education; enhancing graduate and professional education and research; improving the quality and diversity of faculty, staff and students; enriching the campus environment; fortifying the technological and financial infrastructure; and enhancing national prominence.

The action plan calls for $30 million in investments to be made in fiscal years 2008 through 2012. The financial plan assumes overall enrollment will grow by 810 students by 2012, an increase of 2.9 percent. It also assumes state support will not increase significantly and that undergraduate tuition and fees will grow by no more than 3 percent per year after the current tuition freeze expires in two years.

"This plan informs us that Ohio University will be able to fund inflationary cost increases in compensation, benefits and utilities," Decatur said. "It will fund the $30 million plan just outlined and will help to improve the balance sheet."

The financial plan includes allocations to increase salaries for all categories of employees, including an addition of $1.2 million to faculty salaries. It also assumes that health care expenses will increase by 8 percent annually.

Decatur added in a press conference following the meeting that the plans are built on models that will change if various assumptions change. That's why, Decatur said, "In years three, four and five, my crystal ball is real, real fuzzy."

Because costs are expected to grow faster than revenues, the financial plan will require the university to generate new revenue each year or reallocate existing resources within its budget. Next year, the target will be $8.1 million; in subsequent years it will be $11.5 million, $12.1 million and $1.9 million, respectively.

Decatur pointed out that these amounts represent between 2 percent and 3 percent of the total budget.

Decatur stressed that not all realignments will lead to cuts. There are many opportunities to generate revenues as the university moves to a responsibility-centered budget model, he said.

By building upon strengths and areas of prominence, the university's five-year plans will help prepare for the statewide plans that Eric Fingerhut, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, previewed on Wednesday when he announced The University System of Ohio concept. 

Although they did not take formal action today, the trustees responded favorably to the draft plans and stressed the need to gain input from stakeholders over the next few months.

Trustee C. Robert Kidder, who acknowledged having been critical of the university's planning efforts to date, called the plans "terrific -- a gigantic step forward that will allow us to put everything in context."

Trustee Larry Schey saw the positives in the challenges Ohio University faces.

"It is vitally important that the basis of this plan and the need for this plan be understood by all constituencies," he said. "Much of what we are responding to is beyond the control of Ohio University, but more important, we have the opportunity to shape the future of this institution."

DeLawder said he would like to see the plan finalized by December, the deadline for all universities to provide their plans to Fingerhut. He will draw from the universities' plans in developing a 10-year statewide plan due on Gov. Ted Strickland's desk by March 31. 

"Much work is to be done," DeLawder said. "The reality is that change is required. The entire campus must be engaged. I have no doubt that some nitpicking will occur. Advice will be given, to which we must listen. But at some point we must stop the discussion and adopt the plan."

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