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Members of the Ohio University Board of Trustees meet on Thursday in Walter Hall (FILE: The BoT is currently not meeting in Walter Hall, but virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic). 

Board of Trustees appoints regional representative, passes resolution regarding Voluntary Separation or Retirement Program

Ohio University’s Board of Trustees met Thursday in both committees and executive session and discussed the appointment of its regional trustee as well as a new Voluntary Separation or Retirement Program, or VSRP. 

Governance and Compensation

The Governance and Compensation Committee passed a new VSRP resolution as well as amended the Board’s bylaws to include a regional trustee.

Elizabeth Sayrs, executive vice president and provost of OU, presented the VSRP resolution.

The resolution is similar to the previous program, Sayrs said, as the base salary will be paid out over two years for those eligible for the program along with an additional $20,000 for health benefits. Tenure-track faculty members will be eligible, she said.

Colleen Bendl, chief human resource officer, added that by participating in the program, faculty are waving their rights for reemployment at OU in the future. Bendl said anyone participating in the program who is also eligible for retirement will be entitled to their sick-leave payout as well as other retirement benefits.

Sayrs said the plan is to enact the program in mid-January. She said faculty could separate from the plan at the end of the Spring, Summer and Fall semesters.

“There are departments where it takes a little longer to refill that faculty capacity,” Sayrs said. “We wanted to have that flexibility.”

The VSRP will be limited to departments in which tenure-track faculty staffing levels are not sustainable, Sayrs said.

After the presentation of the program, the resolution passed unanimously with no discussion.

David Moore, secretary to the Board, presented a bylaws amendment to the Board to add an additional non-voting regional trustee to the board to serve a three-year term. The motion passed unanimously with no discussion.

OU President Hugh Sherman presented his nomination to fill the additional regional trustee position. With feedback from regional mayors and deans, Sherman nominated Misty Crosby, executive director of the Buckeye Hills Regional Council.

Crosby’s responsibilities as regional trustee will include presiding over Southeastern counties and representing those regions on the Board.

“She’s taken a leadership role in developing health initiatives (and) broadband for the entire region, so we’re very excited to put her name forth,” Sherman said.

The nomination passed with no objections or discussion from the Board.

The committee ended its meeting with a proposition to extend its current policy that allows members to participate from a remote location while still counting toward group voting. The new provision came with some requirements, including the requirement of roll call and trustees notifying the Board 48 hours in advance if they plan to attend virtually. That rule has been effective since Sept. 30 and allows up to two-thirds of the trustees to attend electronically. 

As long as the trustee abides by the parameters set, they will be considered present, will count toward a quorum and will have the ability to vote, Stacey Bennett, general counsel for OU, said.

Bennett said if the Board decides to take advantage of this new ability, it can, but there are still some considerations to be made. The Board will meet at a later date to decide whether or not to continue that policy. 

Academics and Student Success

The Academics and Student Success committee discussed its research funding and strategies at its meeting Thursday.

Joseph Shields, vice president for research and creative activity, said he thinks the most logical strategy moving forward is to “build from established strengths and existing investments.”

Shields explained the importance of extramural funding to the university’s research efforts and stressed the significance of keeping that funding to sustain strong research programs. OU does that by connecting faculty and staff to funding opportunities, holding grant writing workshops, writing assistance and assembling proposals. 

Shields also discussed how the recent investments in physical infrastructure, like the building of Heritage Hall, the new Chemistry Building and the renovations to Clippinger Laboratories are aimed to aid research and education. 

He said the mission of research is “deeply intertwined” with educational activities and, when educational programs grow, there are more opportunities for research. He said the recent increase of educational programs regarding health and medicine led to growth in research for that field.

Later on, Candace Boeninger, OU’s vice president for enrollment management, informed the Board the total headcount for student enrollment at OU in 2021 was 28,770, 1,639 fewer students than in 2020.

Although the number is lower than last year, the freshman cohort for this year increased by 17%. Of the students in the freshman cohort, 589 are enrolled in the OHIO Honors Program. 

The average GPA among the class of 2025 was 3.59, and 50% of those students were also ranked in the top 25% of their individual high school classes. 

Boeninger also updated the Board on non-resident and diverse student population enrollment data. The university’s freshman non-resident population increased by 16.6% while the freshman African American population increased by 6.6% from 2020. The freshman Hispanic/Latino population increased as well by 4.8% from 2020. 

Boeninger introduced a joint effort from the Honors Tutorial College, the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of the Provost and a collection of faculty members to provide a residentially based scholars program at OU. The program is called the 1804 Scholars program and will have a strong emphasis on wellness, she said.

Resources, Facilities and Affordability

The Resources, Facilities and Affordability committee sent five resolutions, which were subsequently approved, to the full Board.

An outlook for the fiscal year was also presented during the committee by Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Joe Trabacz, who said the university will most likely have a breakeven year, mainly due to $27 million of unused funds carried over from last year’s CARES Act.

Additionally, Trabacz said he is expecting an overall reduction of $3.1 million used on COVID-19 expenses than projected due to vaccination rates on campus. 

However, it was emphasized during the meeting the university is not financially stable when it comes to the structural budget deficit moving forward. 

The portfolio reduction strategy was shared, which is a comprehensive look at the land and buildings OU owns and what the university is not utilizing or is costing it money. Additionally, it looked at the options moving forward for the properties, including selling and demolition. 

The Ridges is one of the properties being considered for either rehabilitation or sale. Other properties the university is looking to sell or have potential buyers for are Lasher Hall, Haning Hall, Crewson House, the Campus and Community Center and acres of Dysart Woods. 

The university also plans to demolish Scott Quad as part of its reduction, citing significant  repairs and maintenance as well as a lack of need for use of the building. The plan is to return it to a more natural landscape in the area. 

The strategy would cost the university around $13 million in 5 years. However, it would offset maintenance costs by about $20 million and reduce expenses by $1.5 million annually. The potential revenue from the strategy will be about $465,000 to about $1.02 million starting in fiscal year 2023.

Chief Facilities Management Officer Steve Wood presented to the Board an update on facilities projects for which the university has a budget of $366,008,297 for a total of 137 projects. Wood focused on six projects in need of Board approval, which includes system improvements for The Convo, Gamertsfelder Hall restroom and HVAC renovation, Scott Quad demolition, Ridges voltage transition and deaerator replacement and a building-based heating system for Bromley Hall.

The projects’ costs are budgeted to be just under $32.5 million.

The Board voted to approve the renaming of McCracken Hall, named temporarily after the first provost at OU, to the Gladys W. and David H. Patton Hall. The new name honors the parents of Violet Patton, a financial supporter of OU’s Patton College of Education, who were both educators in Ohio. The provost, dean and Board plan to find another location within the college to name in honor of McCracken. 

Also approved was a resolution moving forward with the acceptance of a land grant from the daughters of President John C. Baker, Ann and Elizabeth, who inherited the land following his death. The university hopes the approximately 260-acre property, located 8 miles outside of Athens, will provide an opportunity for more research by students and faculty as well as use by community members. 

Alex Imwalle, Addie Hedges, Alyssa Cruz, Sophia Young, Lydia Colvin, Donovan Hunt, Payton Daugherty and Paige Fisher contributed to this report.

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