Wright State to begin process of cutting faculty

Aerial shot of Wright State University's Fairborn campus. FILE
Aerial shot of Wright State University's Fairborn campus. FILE

Wright State University will begin laying the groundwork to reduce its faculty workforce, the school said Thursday.

The university is in the early stages of the process, so school leaders don’t know who will be laid off or how many people, President Sue Edwards said. More information won’t be available until the process plays out, she said.

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Wright State sent a letter Thursday to the faculty union alerting them that the university anticipates the need for layoffs, which starts the process.

“It’s just basically saying that we believe that we have to go down this pathway,” Edwards said.

Sue Edwards, Wright State president. Contributed
Sue Edwards, Wright State president. Contributed

A committee consisting of university and union representatives will begin the process of determining the number of people to lay off and other details between the end of November and February, she said. When the layoffs will begin depends on the group’s recommendation, she said.

Affected faculty members will receive up to 18 months of notice and workforce displacement support. The university has provided similar support to employees who were previously laid off, school officials said in a letter to the campus community. The institution cut 50 positions this summer, in addition to 30 employees who agreed to retire early.

Declining enrollment and other financial hardships led to the decision to reduce the workforce. Wright State has navigated dramatic changes within higher education while also managing the effects of the unprecedented COVID-19 public health emergency, the university said in the letter.

“Certainly, this is not an easy decision for the university, and I assure everyone it is a decision we do not undertake lightly,” Edwards said. “The university has, for many months, been actively considering in good faith whether the need for faculty workforce reductions could be alleviated through normal attrition or other alternatives, as the (collective bargaining agreement) instructs — for example, the two previous voluntary retirement incentive packages the university offered in recent years — but the continued enrollment declines require us to act further.”

A little more than 12,000 students are enrolled at the school this fall, however, enrollment has declined by more than 30% the past five years, officials said. Declining enrollment is not unique to Wright State, as colleges across the state have been losing students the past decade.

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Despite the enrollment woes, the university has managed to remain afloat financially by making cuts, including layoffs in recent years. But the COVID-19 pandemic has added to its financial hardship.

As a result, they will generate less revenue in the next couple of fiscal years, the school said during its Board of Trustees meeting in September. The institution is expecting revenues for the upcoming year to be about $25.6 million below this fiscal year’s actual revenues, according to documents from the meeting. Officials are also projecting a net operating deficit of $11.7 million for 2021, the document says.

Enrollment in recent years has hovered around 10,000 students. So in June, the Board of Trustees approved a Fiscal Year 2021 budget with expected revenues of $210 million, down from revenue of about $257 million.

That same month, school leaders expected a budget surplus of $1 million by the end of the current fiscal year. However, long-term demographic, educational and enrollment trends are not on the institution’s side, Greg Sample, the university’s chief operating officer said at the time.

Wright State would prefer not to make the cuts, however, they are forced to do so in an effort keep the university financially viable, Edwards said.

“It’s just an unfortunate circumstance, but I think it’s all about creating a university that will support the region moving forward,” she said.

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