Report calls for faculty furloughs, no pay raises at Wright State

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Protesters attend Wright State meeting

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A strike could be coming at Wright State University if faculty union members vote with the organization's leadership to reject a fact-finder's report released late Monday.

The report — which brings to a head more than a year of contract negotiations — calls for faculty to get no raises, could require union members to pay more for health care, recommends the use of furloughs and rejects the idea of downsizing or eliminating Wright State’s athletics department, among other things.

The AAUP-WSU is recommending its 562 members vote to reject the report, which could in turn force the administration back to the negotiating table or initiate a strike, said Martin Kich, president of the Wright State chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

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“This is going to affect the academic mission of the university and how we serve our students,” Kich said. “It’s going to affect the number of faculty we have, the number of students in courses and the kind of faculty we can attract to the university.”

Starting today, members will vote for about a week on the report, which proposes what could be called a compromise contract, Kich said. If at least 60 percent of the union’s membership turns down the fact-finder’s proposal, then the union could initiate a strike.

Wright State president Cheryl Schrader on Tuesday said she and the board of trustees had not been able to take time to fully read and deliberate the fact-finder’s report. She declined to comment directly on the report’s recommendations, but said she was hopeful the administration and union would strike a deal.

“We are very hopeful that both parties will consider the resolution very seriously and come together in good faith to come to an agreement … we have a lot to consider,” Schrader said.

The development of a furlough policy at Wright State first came to light last December when the Dayton Daily News obtained an internal email from the university. The fact-finder’s report issued Monday recommends two “cost savings days” be allowed to take place each semester so Wright State can save money if needed.

Though Schrader declined to directly comment on the fact-finder’s proposal, she said furlough policies are common at universities and there was one in place at her previous institution, the Missouri University of Science and Technology. However, Kich said furloughs would amount to a pay cut as faculty would still need to do just as much work as they normally do.

“Our jobs just simply don’t work that way,” Kich said.

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The fact-finder’s report also dismissed the idea of Wright State outright eliminating its athletics department or taking its teams from NCAA’s Division I to Division II, though the concepts were “much discussed,” according to the report.

Wright State “stepping down” from Division I to Division II status has been brought up in recent years as the university has debated how to handle its ongoing budget crisis. Board of trustees chairman Doug Fecher said in May 2017 that such a move was in no way “off the table.”

There are “penalties” and additional costs that would be associated with either proposal, which the fact-finder determined Wright State “cannot afford,” according to the report.

“Division I Athletics, and those of the lower Divisions, still require costs to operate. The total elimination thereof, it is simply not practical or necessary even though the financial circumstances of this university are in much need of recovery,” the report states.

Wright State trustees slashed more than $30 million from the school’s fiscal year 2018 budget in June 2017 in an attempt to begin correcting years of overspending. Those cuts ended up not being enough, and by the close of FY 2018, Wright State had reduced spending by around $53 million.

In June, trustees approved a FY 2019 budget that predicted another $10 million decline in revenue.

Those budget problems have largely driven contract talks, Schrader said. The recommendations in Monday's report reflect a briefing  the WSU administration submitted to the fact-finder earlier this year, which Kich criticized as "hyperbolic."

Wright State has “turned a corner” Schrader said, and news that the school will likely avoid state fiscal watch may be evidence of improvement. But Schrader said there’s still a lot more work to be done and contract negotiations have reflected that.

“We cannot be committing ourselves to practices and policies and programs that are not financially sustainable,” Schrader said. “So, we’ve turned a corner but we still have a long way to go.”

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