Gov. Mike DeWine today made his first two appointments to the Wright State University board of trustees less than 24 hours after an investigation revealed the school violated state law through its nonprofit real estate corporation.
DeWine, in an exclusive interview today, told the Dayton Daily News that he is appointing Andy Platt of Xenia to a full nine-year term and Marty Grunder of Bellbrook to fill out a term vacated early by C.D. Moore. Platt will replace Anuj Goyal who is leaving the board with the end of his term this year.
“I think that changes certainly have to be made at Wright State,” DeWine said. “As I have discussed with the two new members of the board, Wright State faces several challenges.”
Platt is a managing director at Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management in Beavercreek and a 2009 alumnus and former golfer at WSU. Grunder is a University of Dayton graduate and president and CEO of Grunder Landscaping Co., which he started with his brother in 1984.
Grunder’s term will expire June 30, 2024 and Platt’s will expire June 30, 2028, according to the governor’s office.
“We know that Wright State has a lot of issues,” Grunder said. “But I love Dayton, Ohio and I love Wright State and hopefully with my 35 years of business experience … I can help get Wright State on more solid ground.”
Wright State Boonshoft School of Medicine student Olivia Sneary has been selected to serve as the non-voting graduate student member of the board through June 2021.
The appointments come less than a day after the Ohio Inspector General released an investigative report showing Double Bowler Properties Corp. — Wright State’s private real estate corporation — improperly paid a former consultant and purchased land without first getting necessary state approval.
The OIG concluded Wright State failed to get approval from the State Controlling Board and the chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education before Double Bowler purchased property.
As a nonprofit, Double Bowler can operate quicker and with more flexibility that the university can on its own, CEO Greg Sample has said. It was also created to help keep the purchase price low by keeping Wright State’s name out of the transaction.
“Up until the OIG report was issued the University received no indication that its real estate property transaction processes were in violation of any state statutes,” spokesman Seth Bauguess said in a prepared statement Tuesday.
The inspector general also found that Double Bowler paid consultant and former congressman Steve Austria $9,000 a month for his services, but should have paid him on a “time and materials” basis. The OIG’s investigation started in 2017 after Sample told the Ohio Attorney General’s Office that he could not determine what work Austria had done for the $108,000 he had been paid.
Austria has said that he fully cooperated with the investigation and that all of his work was approved by Double Bowler.
The OIG’s investigative report “pretty much speaks for itself,” DeWine said.
The investigation is the latest in years of scandal, financial issues and legal problems that have plagued Wright State.
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Years of overspending drained Wright State’s reserve fund to $31 million in fiscal year 2017 and forced the university to reduce its spending by around $53 million in FY 2018. Wright State also settled a federal investigation into H-1B visa misuse last year for $1 million and dealt with a 20-day faculty strike earlier this year.
Despite Wright State’s recent struggles, DeWine said he’s “confident that there’s a lot of good things going on at Wright State.”
Appointments to university boards are “very important,” DeWine said. Besides the outgoing Goyal, who was appointed by former Gov. Ted Strickland, the rest of Wright State’s board members were appointed by former Gov. John Kasich.
DeWine said he cannot appoint more people to the board unless another member’s term expires or others choose to depart their position early.
“I’m optimistic about Wright State’s future,” DeWine said. “But, these two appointments are my first opportunity to refocus Wright State.”
Aside from its self-inflicted problems, WSU, like many other colleges, is dealing with changes outside of its control, DeWine said. Enrollment in particular has been an issue for Wright State in recent years and precipitates funding problems as tuition revenue is the school’s largest single source of income.
Around 14,411 students are expected to attend WSU starting in late August, a 7.4 percent decline from last fall, a Dayton Daily News examination of the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2020 shows. The last time Wright State’s total enrollment dipped below 15,000 was in 1982 when 14,826 were enrolled, university records show.
To refocus and weather outside changes, it’s “imperative” that Wright State build partnerships as it has with nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, DeWine said.
“When Wright State is vibrant and strong, Wright State is essential for the successful continued economic development of the Miami valley,” DeWine said. “It’s very important… it’s just incumbent upon us to see that Wright State succeeds.”
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