Wright State faculty union concerned about furlough talk

Members of Wright State University’s faculty union turned out in droves to a board of trustees meeting Friday even though it took place 75 minutes north of Dayton at the school’s Lake Campus.

The Wright State chapter of the American Association of University Professors has been locked into sometimes tense contract negotiations with the school’s administration over the last year. The tension appeared to escalate this week after the university announced on Wednesday that it would consider employee furloughs if finances don’t improve.

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“I think they are worried about that… They’re concerned about the management of their university. It hasn’t been just one thing but a package of things over the last few years,” said John McNay, a history professor at the University of Cincinnati and president of the AAUP’s Ohio conference.

McNay said he drove up to Celina to show support for Wright State’s faculty union as did a leader from Bowling Green State University’s faculty union.

Furloughs are not imminent, administrators insist, but rather a backup plan if for some reason Wright Sate is unable to stick to its fiscal year 2018 budget. WSU slashed $30.8 million from its budget in June in an attempt to begin correcting years of overspending.

The school is also trying to boost its reserve fund by $6 million this year but must carve out another $10.5 million from its budget because of low enrollment issues and unexpected scholarship and fellowship costs. WSU officials have said they plan to make up the difference through savings in summer classes and operations, “discretionary spending” and leaving positions vacant.

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In a brief speech, AAUP-WSU treasurer Tom Rooney reminded board members of their responsibility to make sure Wright State continues its long-term commitment of offering a quality college education despite shorter-term budget problems. He received a standing ovation from the crowd of AAUP-WSU members.

“Boards will come and go but as long as the university continues to have students you’re going to have a faculty that ‘s going to continue fight and ensure that they’re getting the best education possible,” Rooney said.

Contract negotiations originally stalled in March amid the university’s budget issues and the abrupt resignation of former president David Hopkins. AAUP-WSU president Martin Kich said on Wednesday that the drafting of a furlough policy could be a counter-move by the administration after the union created a formal strike procedure in November.

The union’s contract expired in June but it remains in effect until a fact-finder’s report is issued. Fact-finding is scheduled for late January.

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Doug Fecher, WSU board chairman said in October that the university was seeking some flexibility in negotiations. But, that comment troubled faculty members who feared that “flexibility” meant the school wants to make it easier to lay off faculty and eliminate academic programs.

“I can’t help but think about the word flexibility which is a word I used to described a component of future success. Somehow this word has become a loaded term at Wright State when indeed the board’s intent is for it to mean just what it says,” Fecher said. “So, I’d like to recommend a compromise (that) we begin using the word nimble in our conversation as a way of describing the university’s capabilities to adjust when conditions change.”

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By the numbers

$30.8 million: Amount Wright State slashed its budget by in June.

$6 million: Amount Wright State aims to boost reserves by this year.

584: Number of faculty members represented by WSU-AAUP.

824: Number of full-time faculty members at Wright State.

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