Wright State president Cheryl Schrader talks about the faculty union strike set to begin Tuesday at the university. Classes will go on despite the strike.
Photo: Staff Writer
Photo: Staff Writer

WSU’s next president faces challenges

Cheryl Schrader, the seventh president at Wright State in its 52-year history, announced Tuesday that she plans to step down Dec. 31, two and half years into her five-year contract.

The university and members of Wright State’s board of trustees have declined to comment publicly on how they will replace Schrader. Following a closed door meeting on Wednesday, the board left without making public comment. The board’s finance committee will meet on Oct. 25.

» RELATED: Wright State president to step down at the end of the year

Leaders in the Wright State Chapter of the American Association of University Professors have been told that provost Sue Edwards will likely take over Schrader’s job on an interim basis, said union president Noeleen McIlvenna. Edwards attended part of the Tuesday’s trustees meeting while Schrader was absent.

Sue Edwards, Wright State provost.
Photo: Staff Writer

Before starting at WSU in July 2018, Edwards served as vice provost for faculty affairs at Appalachian State University, according to Wright State.

It’s critical for universities to find the right leaders, said Cassie Barlow, president of the Southwestern Ohio Council of Higher Education. Barlow praised Schrader for doing an “amazing job” and said she and her administration were “always at the table” when it came to discussions about trying to make the region better as a whole.

“We have been very, very blessed in our region to attract some great leaders to our universities and I think it’s because of Ohio’s reputation with higher education,” Barlow said. “It’s incredibly important not just from the perspective of SOCHE but for the entire state.”

The university’s enrollment is lower than it’s been in more than 37 years, according to WSU data. Around 13,742 students are enrolled at Wright State University, around a 11.7 percent decline from last year.

Despite faltering enrollment figures, McIlvenna said Schrader’s departure may be due in part to a rocky tenure at the university.

Specifically, McIlvenna said, it may have something to do with the 20-day faculty union strike earlier this year. The standoff — which ended Feb. 10 with a set of agreements spanning five years — is thought to be one of the longest faculty union strikes in Ohio’s history.

“I assume that of course it contributed…she lost,” McIlvenna said. “No one can know why those decisions were made by the higher echelons…At this point it’s about what’s next.”

Schrader could not be reached for comment.

Wright State vice president of finance, Walt Branson, is also expected to step down from his position, sources have told the Dayton Daily News. Branson previously worked with Schrader at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Wright State’s next president will be the third to serve the school in the past three yeas.

Former president David Hopkins resigned in March 2017, more than three months before he planned to retire. Hopkins cited budget concerns and transitioning in the next president as reasons for his unexpected resignation.

Hopkins was replaced temporarily by Curtis McCray until Schrader arrived in July 2017 to take over the position.

Cheryl Schrader, WSU president.
Photo: Staff Writer

Schrader was awarded the WSU president’s job after emerging from a nine-month national search and a pool of 61 candidates. She become the seventh president of Wright State and the university’s first woman leader.

It’s yet to be revealed whether the search for Wright State’s next leader will follow a similar strategy.

» RELATED: Gov. DeWine: ‘Changes certainly have to be made at Wright State’

Randy Gardner, chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education, declined to comment on Schrader’s departure or Wright State’s next presidential search. Typically, the department does not get involved in presidential searches and hiring decisions.

McIlvenna hopes the AAUP-WSU will be involved in the process and said there should be a discussion about whether the university’s next president should be hired from within or from somewhere else.

“We are looking forward to the chance to build a new and constructive relationship with the next president,” McIlvenna said. “For the sake of the students, for the sake of quality education, for the sake of everyone at Wright State we look forward to a bright brand new future.”

Schrader’s decision to step down caps a tenure marked not just by a faculty union strike but also by a swath of issues she inherited.

During Schrader’s two years in office, Wright State has attempted to rebound from a financial crisis that started before she arrived. The university has doubled its cash reserves over the last two years, increasing them from around $31 million in 2017 to more than $60 million as of this fall.

The university’s financial trouble was the result of six years of overspending from 2012 through 2017.

Under Schrader’s watch, WSU also settled a federal investigation into H-1B visa misuse last year for $1 million. Like the financial trouble, the federal probe started years before Schrader arrived on campus.

Schrader faced backlash from the faculty, which nearly brought a vote of no confidence against her in the faculty senate. Instead the faculty senate, which is not affiliated with the faculty union, held a vote of no confidence in the school’s board of trustees.

Schrader’s evaluation following her second year in office was delivered verbally, as is the university’s practice, spokesman Seth Bauguess said via email. She did not receive a bonus or a raise, he said.

“I am pleased and proud to report that due to the hard work and tremendous effort, not to mention great sacrifice offered up by everyone associated with this campus community, we have accomplished much,” Schrader wrote in an email announcing her departure this week. “We are now on much stronger financial footing.”

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