New construction projects, lower enrollment numbers and the proposed Richland Avenue pedestrian bypass were all topics on the agenda for the Ohio University Board of Trustees during the first day of its October meetings Thursday. 

Here’s a breakdown of what board members discussed in each committee meeting: 

Joint Committee

During the Joint Committee meeting, trustees heard a presentation on OIT from Chief Information Officer Craig Bantz and an update on OU’s finances from Deborah Shaffer, vice president for Finance and Administration.

Shaffer told the trustees that the university ended fiscal year 2017 “very close” to what was forecasted.

She said that enrollment was down more than 260 students this academic year, which caused the university to have $1.9 million less than it budgeted for fiscal year 2018. That amount was offset, however, by the about $1.8 million that was not distributed in financial aid as a result of fewer students enrolled than projected.

Earlier in the meeting, Bantz updated the trustees on how OIT uses its resources and how the office has changed and improved over time. He said it is important to provide students with what they expect going into a university.

"Things were not in a strong place,” Bantz said. “We were teetering on the edge of our core technology not meeting our needs."

Bantz said two years ago, for example, about 150 people were able to simultaneously watch Netflix. Now, that number is about 1,200. He said that is just one improvement they have made to in the past few years. 

"We’ve done more in two years than the previous eight years," Bantz said of IT improvements. 

OIT’s annual budget is about $24 million, which is about 3 percent of OU's total operating budget, Bantz said. The office devotes most of its budget to running operations as opposed to growing and transforming it. It spends 93 percent of its budget running OIT operations, while other colleges and universities spend an average of 74 percent of their budget running their IT departments.

Academics Committee

During the Academics Committee meeting, College of Business Dean Hugh Sherman highlighted the achievements of the Schey Sales Center, saying that out of the 500 applications received, only 25 percent were accepted into the program.

Enrollment in the College of Business has steadily increased by about 27 percent within the past five years. The college is planning for a new and “very promising” Bachelor of Business Administration program in Dublin, Sherman said. 

The committee will also forward a resolution to the board asking it to allow extensions to several academic centers and institutes.

The Office of Community Standards and Student Responsibility presented board members with updated information on student code of conduct cases. 

According to a previous Post report, more than 40 percent of sexual misconduct cases that come through the office are ultimately found not in violation of the university’s code of conduct.

Resources, Facilities and Affordability Committee

The Resources, Facilities and Affordability Committee discussed two major upcoming construction projects. The first was the planned changes to Shively Dining Hall. The project is slated to cost about $1.8 million, and will focus on upgrading the “aesthetics and functionality” of the space. 

James Hall is also set to undergo an estimated $1 million in masonry repairs to stabilize the building. The project will remove unstable material and relay masonry to prevent future architectural failures.

The board also discussed a proposed pedestrian bypass, which would pass under Richland Avenue, connecting West Green with the area near Porter Hall. The Athens City Council voted to submit a bid for the design and engineering of the tunnel, which is being constructed to improve traffic flow due to the area’s heavy pedestrian traffic. 

Audit Committee 

OU’s financial statement drafts were submitted in early October. Keith Martinez, an engagement partner, said the statement was approved at “record speed.” 

The audit team had received notice that the review of the statement had been completed. 

The June 30 financial statement audit was approved by board members. Jeff Davis, chief audit executive, reviewed the audit plan, outlining the current status of the plan. 

There are several audits in progress.The College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Health Sciences and Professions are in progress by all.

Research, university advancement and the Campus Involvement Center are planned and waiting to be assigned an auditor. At this time, there is no report date set for those audits. 

Davis also briefly discussed a current construction audit that is going on for Clippinger and other projects. They are expecting to “close out” on the completed Jefferson Hall project as well.

Governance Committee

In the OU Board of Trustees’ Governance Meeting, board members discussed a state-mandated textbook policy. The Ohio Department of Education is requiring universities to conduct studies on textbook costs and report their efforts to reduce costs to the state, according to a previous Post report. Board members were concerned that the state policy would require professors to adjust content to fit state guidelines. 

“One concern that is clearly bubbling up is how much autonomy we are going to have as institutions and as individual faculty to pursue the solutions that will help us reduce the cost to students,” Eric Burchard, director of governmental relations, said. “There’s growing concern about mandates that might specify the nature of the content or a specific textbook that should be used.”

Shelby Campbell, Kaitlin Coward, Lauren Fisher, Kaitlyn McGarvey, Haley Mitroff, Sarah Penix and Ellen Wagner contributed to this report.

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