Wittenberg Under Water

The financial issues that have plagued Wittenberg University for the past several years continue as the university moves into the next fiscal year. The university is projecting a $6 million deficit for fiscal year 2016.
According to Laurie Joyner, university president, the budget deficit is at least in part a result of the university’s previous administration engaging in poor practices, which are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit. While details of the poor practices are still emerging from an ongoing university investigation, the school’s attorney David Campbell, a partner with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, says the school is seeking “multiple millions of dollars in damages.”
In her report to the Sept. 8 faculty meeting, Joyner outlined the university’s budget problem and answered questions from the faculty.  In an email sent to Joyner prior to the meeting, the Faculty Executive Board expressed concern over the traditional student enrollment for the class of 2019. The class fell 35-40 students short of its goal.   In the faculty meeting, Joyner said she was not concerned with the enrollment shortfall, saying it is only responsible for $700,000 of the $ 6 million deficit.
“It’s been completely predictable, and we have predicted it for basically three years,” she said. “We have bucked the trend the last two, but anybody who has been paying attention demographically. . .would fully understand this is likely to be the pattern moving forward.”
Joyner said she is concerned with “the things we have not turned around that we need to; diversifying academic programs and markets.” Along those lines, Joyner advocated for using the School of Community Education to “subsidize” other areas. “At a time when we know the demographics for traditional-aged students is shrinking, what schools have to do is reach out to non-traditional students: create certificate programs, reach out to international students, reach out for transfer students. That’s the potential the School of Community Education brings a place like Wittenberg. So hopefully, we won’t have to engage in cuts to the core academic program.”
Asked how these things can be accomplished in a time of restricted spending, Joyner responded: “What you do is reallocate existing internal resources. . .you take from weaker areas of the university, and you invest in areas where you can take a competitive niche market.”  Regarding faculty reaction to the reallocation of those resources, she said, “It’s their job. This is the system of shared governance, and at most places, this is done in an ongoing way.”
Michael Anes, associate professor in the department of psychology, said that he thinks there has been a concerted effort among the faculty to re-position the academic programs. He added, “It is difficult for people to be creative when they feel they are under threat.”
The budget issues have led to a pay freeze for faculty over the past several years. Furthermore, Joyner said in the faculty meeting that the university’s board of directors would be considering cuts to faculty benefits in its upcoming October meeting, but she hoped that cuts would not come until the spring.
But continued cuts to faculty will make it difficult for Wittenberg to maintain its  “demonstrable quality” in regards to faculty and that “it will be difficult to continue to bring those people who bring innovative teaching styles,” Anes responded.
“We are in a dominating position vis-a-vis the Ohio Professor of the Year awards compared to our competition, and outpace other well-resourced schools in terms of U.S. Fulbright Scholar awards, which invigorate our professors and expand their teaching portfolios extensively,” Anes said
Joyner expressed concern over the school’s ability to retain students. According to U.S. News and World Report, Wittenberg’s first year retention rate is about 77 percent, which ranks second to last in the 10 North Coast Athletic Conference schools, and is nearly nine points below the average for the conference. Joyner points to the Center for Student Success and Engagement as an effort to improve that number, along with reallocating personnel to focus more on the issue.
Junior Cameron Black, Student Senate vice president, commented on Student Senate’s role in increasing retention. “We should not label a sinking retention rate as a Wittenberg specific problem — our peer institutions are seeing very similar trends. That being said, if Wittenberg as an institution placed a larger emphasis on retention, we may very well see better rates in the future.”
Black went on to say of the school’s budget issues moving forward: “We need to be thankful for all of the effort that has gone into returning Wittenberg to financial stability.”

1 Comment

  1. Wittenberg Under Water – A Year Later – As a parent of a prospective Wittenberg student, I am curious whether you might consider a follow-up to this reporting. I can see from other articles that many positive changes have been made over the past year since you published this work, and some mighty ambitious projects are in the future, but I find little information about the current finances of the university. Would you consider an update? Thank you.

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