The latest casualty of Wright State University’s financial problems is its own president as David Hopkins resigned Friday, three and a half months before he planned to retire.
An ongoing budget crisis and transitioning in the next president were two of the reasons Hopkins abruptly resigned Friday, he said in an email to faculty staff and students.
“We have a substantial undertaking to bring our budget into alignment with our revenues,” Hopkins wrote in the email. “Our Board of Trustees is very involved in making these difficult decisions.”
Hopkins declined to be interviewed on Friday.
With his resignation, Hopkins will receive $150,000 in deferred compensation and is eligible for an annual faculty salary of $200,000. Hopkins was to be paid $432,000 for one full year after leaving office, if he had finished his term as president, according to his contract.
The board of trustees has appointed Curtis McCray, who helped the university review its operational efficiencies, to serve as interim president, beginning Monday.
In the last few years of Hopkins’ presidency, Wright State has been embroiled in budget issues that led to 23 layoffs last year and more are expected to be announced in April. The university needs to cut $25 million from its budget for fiscal year 2018 and Hopkins ordered a hiring freeze in February.
Overspending is the cause of Wright State’s ongoing financial difficulties, officials have said. The university is expected to spend $40 million more than it brought in this year, according to cash projections.
“That cannot continue under Dr. McCray’s leadership,” said Michael Bridges, chairman of the WSU board of trustees. “You have to live within that budget.”
WSU trustees have said they want to alleviate as many budget issues as they can before incoming president Cheryl Schrader takes office on July 1. Schrader, the faculty, students and staff deserve to have that peace of mind, Bridges said.
“Wright State University has made great progress over the past decade and is poised to move to the next level,” Schrader said in a prepared statement. “We face some tough challenges but we will get through them together. I am excited to get to work to best position Wright State for the future.”
A new board?
Ohio Gov. John Kasich may be considering appointing all new trustees to WSU’s board, said Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, chairwoman of the Ohio Senate Education Committee Chairwoman.
Kasich’s office did not comment directly on the speculation Friday but a spokeswoman said “Gov. Kasich is abreast with the developments and keeping up with details of the situation.” Bridges said on Friday he was unaware of any potential board changes.
“I have not heard that,” Bridges said. “But, we are volunteers. We serve at the pleasure of the governor.”
All but one of Wright State’s trustees, Bridges said, were appointed by Kasich.
In the mid 1990s, then-Gov. George Voinovich asked all Central State University board members to resign so he could put in new leadership to turn the school’s finances around. While Lehner estimated Wright State’s finances are “close” to as bad as Central State’s were, she cautioned Kasich on asking board members to step down.
“I think it would be a mistake if he did do that,” Lehner said. “If I were advising the governor, I would suggest that he proceed with a bit of caution.”
Hopkins immediate resignation is “an indication of how bad things are at Wright State,” Lehner said.
“They need to right the ship sooner rather than later,” Lehner said. “I think a lot of tough decisions need to be made.”
On March 1, Bridges said he and Doug Fecher, vice chairman of the board, met with staff members from Kasich’s office in Columbus to discuss budget issues and the presidential search. Schrader was named president on March 6.
The meeting was a routine one, Bridges said.
“We try to go up there every six months or so,” Bridges said. “It was really just a normal meeting.”
A slight successor
McCray will serve less than four months as WSU’s interim president.
Wright State trustees began working with McCray through his role as a consultant for an operational review of the university as part of the search for a new president. McCray helped trustees brief presidential finalists on operational information, according to the university.
McCray will assist the university in crafting its upcoming 2018 budget.
“His primary focus is going to be on getting our financial situation in order,” Bridges said. “We’re optimistic of his efforts.”
McCray gained experience with budget issues during his time as president at California State University Long Beach.
While there he helped oversee more than $33 million in budget cuts, laid off hundreds of part-time faculty, ended some academic programs and eliminated the university’s football team, according to the Los Angeles Times.
McCray has served as a university president, at one institution or another, since the early 1980s until his retirement in 2005.
McCray began his presidential career at the University of North Florida in 1982. He became president of California State University Long Beach in 1988, president of Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois in 1993 and finally president of National Louis University in Chicago in 1998.
McCray declined to comment on his appointment on Friday, said spokesman Seth Bauguess.
Hopkins leaves behind a mixed legacy at Wright State. After rising to the presidency from the provost position, Hopkins oversaw the construction of the university’s Neuroscience Engineering Collaboration Building, the Student Success Center, the Wright State Physicians building and the expansion of the Creative Arts Center.
Hopkins also oversaw the university’s “Rise. Shine” campaign which raised more than $160 million.
But, Hopkins history at Wright State is also marked with a lost presidential debate the university is now facing a $1 million lawsuit over. Consultant John McCance, who filed the lawsuit, said the Commission on Presidential Debates pulled the event from Wright State because of “infighting” and “epic gross buffoonery,” among other reasons.
Wright State ended up spending $1.7 million on the debate it never hosted.
The university is also under federal investigation for possible immigration-related wrongdoing. The investigation has cost the school roughly $2.2 million, the I-Team reported in January.
Since Hopkins has weathered so many storms over the last few years, his resignation on Friday came as a “shock” to Martin Kich, president of Wright State’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
“Whatever the reasons are for doing it at this point I don’t understand how it brings stability to the institution this close to a new president coming on,” Kich said. “Somehow they felt no one on-board was willing to implement (the budget remediation plan). That’s the only thing that makes sense, either that or something with the investigation is about to be revealed.”
During Hopkins’ tenure, the university achieved a record enrollment of 19,793 in 2010.
Enrollment momentum dropped off though and the number of students at the university declined by more than 1,800 in the last seven years. Enrollment is the single biggest source of revenue for most colleges and Fecher and other officials have long called for Wright State to develop a better strategy to boost its numbers.
“During his tenure, Dr. Hopkins did a lot of great things. I don’t want that to get lost,” Bridges said. “However, over the last two years the university has exceeded its budget and we have to move on from here.”
5 HIGHER ED MUST READS