The Missouri University of Science and Technology is the crown jewel of this area in the heart of the Ozarks, and incoming Wright State University President Cheryl Schrader has made her mark since arriving as chancellor in 2012.
Schrader is credited with raising enrollment, increasing revenue, boosting minority and women faculty numbers and taming a tough budget situation.
She also is seen as rocking the boat.
Over the last year, Schrader even faced rumblings of a no-confidence vote from faculty.
Schrader acknowledged the turmoil in an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News and said it is a byproduct of a restructuring that was much needed.
“A chancellor or president who is effective, has to make difficult decisions for the good of the university,” Schrader said. “There will be people who don’t always agree with those decisions.”
Schrader will become Wright State’s seventh president on July 1 as the school tries to move past a financial crisis, the release of a long-guarded audit and an ongoing federal investigation into possible immigration-related wrongdoing.
At Missouri S&T, Schrader boosted enrollment by more than 1,000 students. She also restructured academic departments and oversaw the construction of new buildings on the Rolla, Missouri-based campus.
But that success did not come without backlash for Schrader. The rumblings of a no-confidence vote came from faculty within the college of engineering.
Schrader is an engineer herself and taught engineering courses at half a dozen universities including Valparaiso University, the University of Notre Dame and Boise State University, among others. In 2003, she became dean of the college of engineering at Boise State and in 2011 she was named vice president of strategic research initiatives there.
WSU trustees and officials have said that Schrader’s strong research background was one reason she was selected to be the next president. Schrader also increased revenue at the Missouri school by 26 percent from $170 million to $215 million in the five years she was there.
The criticism came mostly from faculty members who had been at the university for decades, administrators and faculty said. They were used to the way things were and had difficulty accepting changes Schrader made, said Joseph Smith, a faculty member who sat in on meetings where a no-confidence vote was considered.
“It never happened for whatever reason,” Smith said. “One of the things I saw happen was a lot of behind the back talk.”
Wright State faculty have not taken a vote of no-confidence against a president in more than 25 years. WSU faculty in October crafted a process for such a vote but then-faculty president.
The WSU board of trustees was unaware that Schrader stared down a no-confidence effort but chairman Michael Bridges said he was not concerned since the vote never came to fruition.
“It never surfaced as an issue,” Bridges said. “That’s certainly not the reaction our faculty had toward her.”
One change Schrader made that caused discontent was the way she restructured academic departments at the university and is something she may have to do at Wright State to help save costs.
Departments at Missouri S&T had previously been separated into four colleges which were dissolved by Schrader’s predecessor. After taking office, Schrader seperated departments into a college of engineering and a college of arts, sciences and business.
Some faculty members thought the change created unnecessary competition. Longtime engineering faculty were unhappy that Schrader elevated the arts, sciences and business programs to the same stature of engineering programs, faculty and administrators said.
“As you can imagine, for those folks who are used to being the drivers that’s been a little different for them,” Schrader said. “I think it is very similar to understanding some of the national situation where you have the traditional haves kind of concerned because the have-nots now are having that opportunity to advance.”
Schrader said she’s learned from the criticism she received from faculty at Missouri S&T.
Schrader has already reached out to faculty at WSU and she plans to meet with them regularly as she did in Missouri. Faculty members are “an extraordinary part of a university,” she said.
“I know that Wright State has gone through a rather tumultuous few years. I think that people will probably feel a little sensitive or raw,” Schrader said. “So, in understanding here how change has impacted some folks, it makes me doubly committed to providing those opportunities to engage face to face.”
Schrader is in the middle of implementing around $8 million in budget cuts at Missouri S&T. The cuts, which represent about a third of what WSU must eliminate from its budget, are in response to an anticipated decrease in state funding, S&T administrators said.
Schrader held several budget forums with students, staff and faculty in Missouri to see where they think cuts should be made. She has also relied heavily on the college’s strategic plan, which will protect a goal of adding 100 faculty members even during the budget crunch.
“Having a very strong strategic plan helps you make decisions,” Schrader said. “It helps you say no and it helps you see where perhaps the best investment can be made.”
Schrader will develop a similar strategic plan at Wright State by talking to people about what the school needs most, she said.
Wright State needs to cut $25 million from its upcoming budget while boosting reserves by $5 million to balance the college’s books. The university is projected to have overspent by more than $120 million over the past six years.
Interim president Curtis McCray is expected to make most of the cuts at Wright State before Schrader arrives. But, if finances don’t improve, Schrader could be tasked with making more cuts at WSU.
Schrader’s colleagues in Missouri said she’s up to the task of righting Wright State’s finances.
“We have been needing to do some budget realigning ourselves. Not to that magnitude but on a smaller scale,” said Walt Branson, vice chancellor in charge of finance and administration at Missouri S&T. “What we’ve done under her leadership is make that a very open process.”
S&T administrators said Schrader knows how to work with state legislators to find funding and that she drives donations for campus projects.
Wright State officials have said that they hope Schrader can duplicate her enrollment record in Dayton as tuition is the school’s largest single source of revenue. Wright State’s enrollment has dipped by 3,355 since 2010, when the university peaked with 19,793 students enrolled. WSU lost nearly $10 million this academic year after international enrollment declined by 21 percent.
“She’s very very effective at raising money and getting more money into our general fund,” Branson said.
Wright State trustees have put pressure on administrators to be more transparent so the troubles the university is dealing with now don’t happen again. Schrader touts herself as an outgoing and transparent leader.
It’s clear that Schrader genuinely cares for students and the school, said John Padgett, a senior student at Missouri S&T, but he added that doesn’t always come across.
“Her weakness there is that she hasn’t been great at showing it,” Padgett said. “She’s not the most outgoing of chancellors.”
During her visit to Wright State in February, Schrader said she often walks around campus to talk to students, faculty and staff. She and her family also try to go to sporting events and performances on campus to engage with the community.
Schrader and her husband Jeff have a daughter, Ella, in elementary school in Rolla and an adult son named Andrew, who is pursuing a doctorate in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. Jeff Schrader said they are looking for a home in Beavercreek, near Wright State’s main campus.
Missouri S&T has nearly doubled in size since 2000, which Schrader said may have spurred comments like those from Padget.
“It was a very small university not too long ago and the position of chancellor looked quite a bit different than it does now,” Schrader said.
5 HIGHER ED MUST READS
Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.