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FILE: Ohio University president Duane Nellis listens to a speaker during the board of trustees meeting on Thursday in Walter Hall (The BoT is currently not meeting in Walter Hall, but virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic). 

Board of Trustees say university is in strong financial position

Interrelated Strategic Agenda Update

The senior vice president for finance and administration told the Board of Trustees that Ohio University is starting from a position of financial strength.

Deb Shaffer said the budget crisis starts when the university stops innovating fiscally.

“We are in an incredibly strong financial position,” Shaffer said.

She said the university has over $1 billion, but not all of it is spendable since some of it is held in bonds or restricted in other ways.

The Athens campus alone had $6.8 million less net tuition come in 2019. It also had $2.5 million more in expenses than predicted.

The presentation also included that the university is doing $10 million better than originally expected.

Total enrollment, across all locations as well as online students, is at 33,057, which is a decrease of about 5%, or 1,827 students.

Total earnings from net tuition is about $213 million and is expected to be up to $249 million in 2026.

OU is also down about 10% in early applications.

That was partially credited to students staying closer to home and continuing their education at community colleges. Some of those students started their College Credit Plus programs at those colleges and are just continuing there.

Resources, Facilities and Affordability Committee

The Resources, Facilities and Affordability Committee approved a resolution for the design and construction of six new projects across all campuses, including an eSports facility in Scripps Hall.

The project is estimated to cost about $650,000 in total. With that money, the facility will include a competition room, a club practice room, a social gaming area, an office space and a broadcasting booth. 

The goal of the facility is to bring competitive video gaming to OU, according to the Board of Trustee’s agenda. 

“It really is a multi-dimensional facility that spans across the university,” OU President Duane Nellis said. “From the general humanities, business, to engineering, it’s really important stuff moving forward.”

Other projects will be taking place at the Lancaster, Dublin and Chillicothe campuses. About 75% of those projects are federally or state funded through grants, Trustee Steve Casciani said. 

Academic and Student Success Committee

The board discussed the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs’ ranking compared to other Public Affairs school. The ranking increasing to 68 out of around 400 schools.

The Board also heard from partners of the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, including Building Bridges to Careers in Marietta. 

The board also heard about the athletic department’s update on the academics of student athletes. The department reported that the cumulative GPA for all student athletes is 3.2. 

Ohio University student athletes had an 89% graduation success rate, which also includes transfer rates. There are student athletes in every academic college.

There was discussion around making the Ohio Honors Program more accessible to student athletes, along with emphasis on giving student athletes the same opportunities that are provided to all students. 

The committee also approved a resolution abolishing the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Geriatric Medicine department.

Trustee Victor Goodman said the field for geriatricians is in dire need of more people and was confused as to why OU would abolish the department as a result.

“What message does it send to the student body when we abolish a department that is arguably turning out specialists to treat older people?” Goodman said.

OU has already peaked in the amount of geriatrics students it has graduated. Only about 100 students graduate in that department each year. 

Governance and Commission Committee 

The Governance and Commission Committee discussed plans regarding voluntary separation programs for tenured professors and associate professors, along with the custodial staff.

“Our goal is to have separation for those that do choose to participate, no later than the end of the year so that we have a change in our fiscal year budget” by July 1, Shaffer said.

The plan window will open on Feb. 3 and would close on March 30. The employee separation date would be no later than June 30.

“We are expecting to cut another 22 custodians this year, and this program again would allow us to have a voluntary component,” Shaffer said. 

The custodial voluntary separation program would also include an early retirement incentive program.

The committee also discussed sexual misconduct standards, in light of Michigan State’s recent lawsuit in which the Board of Trustees’ interim president was forced to step down.

The policy was made clear that in cases of student-on-student sexual misconduct, the university does not have liability unless it is made aware of such misconduct and disregards it, causing further harm to the victim. 

The committee noted that all entities affiliated with OU met expectations and all had no significant change in aspects such as governance status, operational financial status and audit status.

Taylor Burnette, Abby Miller, Ian McKenzie and Emma Skidmore contributed to this report.

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