Wright State president: We haven’t talked layoffs yet

Sue Edwards, president of Wright State University

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Sue Edwards, president of Wright State University

‘We’re not going out of business,’ WSU president says in interview

Susan Edwards, Wright State University president, said university leaders have not discussed the possibility of laying off employees.

Wright State needs greater clarity from the state about its share of instruction funding before having that painful discussion, Edwards said in a wide-ranging interview with the Dayton Daily News Thursday evening.

“The reason we have not discussed this is we have not received any definitive numbers” from the state about funding, said Edwards, whom trustees named university president last year.

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“We’re planning for everything right now,” Edwards said, describing her message to the Wright State community. “But we need you to understand that the only way we’re going to get through this is together.”

Wright State’s situation is not unique. The University of Dayton announced this week that it will furlough 446 employees and lay off 60 others this summer.

Marquette University announced recently it will furlough about 250 employees beginning in mid-April. Bob Jones University, a evangelical university in Greenville, S.C., said it will furlough 50 employees and possibly more later, according to national reports.

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The president of Drew University said last month that her university in New Jersey will furlough about 70 employees through at least the end of May, with a smaller group being laid off permanently.

In fact, more than 72% of college presidents expect to lay off employees, almost 55% expect across-the-board budget cuts and almost 40% will likely cut research-and-development spending, according to a recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. 

In a livestream meeting Thursday, Wright State trustees considered a range of possible budget deficits in a Finance, Audit and Infrastructure Committee forum, from about $11 million to $50 million.

But Edwards said those numbers are only “models” at this point, not definitive predictions, although a deficit of some kind is expected.

“To me, it was just an exercise in how we create a stronger university moving forward,” Edwards said after that meeting. “Even before COVID, we were having to rectify a structural deficit issue that had been recurring since, I don’t know, since the dawn of time here at Wright State.”

“It was an exercise we were going through anyway,” she said. “It’s modeling.”

Added Edwards: “We’ve have always had structural issues. This (the global pandemic) is only going to exacerbate it. So how do we work together to fix it? It is fixable. How do we work together to fix it?”

Greg Sample, Wright State’s chief operating officer, in an email to the Dayton Daily News Thursday, stressed that he is not projecting a deficit of $50 million, and he emphasized that he is not predicting that enrollment of students will fall.

“We’re planning for the worst, but hoping for the best,” Edwards said.

Projections are “constantly fluid,” she said. She compared Wright State’s projections to projections of deaths from COVID-19. Those numbers are constantly updated, Edwards said.

She expects to have greater clarity later in May.

“We are not going out of business,” Edwards added. “This is about how we will ensure we are here for the long term.”

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