Wright State budget forum becomes negotiating table for faculty union

Members of Wright State University’s faculty union rallied and marched on Wednesday to protest a contract proposed by the administration. Faculty members are threatening to strike if a deal on a contract is not reached.

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Members of Wright State University’s faculty union rallied and marched on Wednesday to protest a contract proposed by the administration. Faculty members are threatening to strike if a deal on a contract is not reached.

Tensions between Wright State University’s faculty union and administration publicly erupted Wednesday as contract negotiations continue behind closed doors.

Members of Wright State’s chapter of the Association of American University Professors are threatening to strike if a deal is not reached. After the administration offered faculty a contract with no pay raises and reduced benefits, union leaders rallied on Wednesday for a better contract before marching to a budget forum being led by WSU president Cheryl Schrader.

The administration believes the university’s financial troubles “gives them the upper hand and they intend to use it,” said Rudy Fichtenbaum, national president of AAUP and who is a retired WSU professor. He said the faculty need to show that they are willing to strike if the administration continues pushing its “draconian proposal.”

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The administration has declined to comment on contract talks but earlier this year the university released a statement saying officials did not believe a strike was imminent.

In an email this week, the AAUP-WSU released details about ongoing negotiations and contract offers made by the administration to the union.

The administration has offered the union a three-year contract with no raises, reduced health benefits with higher premiums and a new furlough proposal, according to the email. The reduction in benefits would amount to a 4 percent pay cut and a furlough, which could last up to two weeks, could amount to a five percent pay cut, according to the AAUP-WSU email.

The proposed contract would also give the administration more discretion in assigning workloads, parking fees, life and disability insurance and tuition and fee remission, among other things, according to the email.

‘We have skin in the game’

The would-be budget forum partially became a forum for faculty union members to voice their frustrations with contract negotiations and the administration.

Hundreds of people wearing AAUP-WSU blue shirts and carrying signs gathered around the exterior of the apollo room in Wright State’s student union. Although they remained relatively quiet during budget presentations, they used the question and answer session that followed to address Schrader and WSU leaders.

“Faculty are here today because of what you’ve had your attorney put on the negotiating table,” said Noeleen McIlvenna, a WSU history professor.

McIlvenna and several other union members who spoke said the administration should pay for the university’s financial woes rather than faculty, whom union members said are bearing the brunt. In June, Wright State trustees slashed more than $30.8 million from the university’s budget in an attempt to begin correcting years of overspending.

The contract offer shows that there has been “no learning, no remorse” following the university’s financial missteps, McIlvenna said. As an example, she referred to Schrader and her $425,000 salary, calling her “an unproven president already making half a million dollars.”

In an effort to save money and add $6 million to WSU reserves this year, the university has not filled most jobs that have opened up in the last six months. While those open positions have impacted faculty, the administration has also let jobs go unfilled and Schrader blamed herself for having not done a good job of “articulating where the cutting has been in the administration.”

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In contract talks, faculty furloughs have also been proposed as a way to cut costs in the future if Wright State’s finances don’t improve. Although Schrader stressed the measure would always be a last resort, for the first time on Wednesday she said that administrators should be furloughed over faculty.

“It is people who are paid less who would be hurt most by a furlough,” she said. “These are the discussions we are having. We have skin in the game… and all of us are being stretched in our capacity.”

Fiscal watch less likely

The faculty union’s protest came as some good financial news for the university was announced at the budget forum.

Wright State will avoid being placed on state fiscal watch if the university sticks to its fiscal year 2018 budget, officials said.

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The state measures every public college’s fiscal health with something called a “Senate Bill 6 score,” an annual rating of 0 to 5. Any school that falls below a 1.75 two years in a row is put on notice.

Wright State projects its score this past year will be a .8, meaning one more year below a 1.75 would put the school on fiscal watch. But, the school is projecting it will earn a score of 2.2 for the current fiscal year that closes at the end of June.

The good financial news came with some bad news too though, as WSU is expected to incur around a 2 percent decline in enrollment that will amount to around a $3.5-million loss in revenue next fall, said chief business officer Walt Branson said. The decline follows a 2.3 percent enrollment drop from last fall, board of trustees chairman Doug Fecher said.

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Tuition revenue is Wright State’s biggest single source of revenue so higher enrollment would mean more money and “good times” for WSU, Fecher said. For now though, that solution could be out of reach for Wright State if next year’s enrollment projections come to fruition.

“You need to be careful of the good times,” Fecher said. “You can’t spend money like a drunken sailor, pardon my language. That might have happened here.”

How Wright State got here

• Wright State trustees cut more than $30 million from the school's budget in June in an attempt to correct years of overspending. The need to save money has strained contract negotiations between WSU administratiors and the faculty union for almost a year.

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