Dennis Shields, the first of three finalists for Wright State University’s president’s job.
Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided

WSU presidential finalist faced ‘existential’ threats in Wisconsin

Wright State University’s first of three presidential finalists comes from a state university dealing with severe financial problems and “existential threats” to its future.

University of Wisconsin-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields said his experience leading the struggling southwest Wisconsin institution would translate to helping the cash-strapped Wright State.

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Shields has served as chancellor at UW-Platteville since 2010, according to his resume.

“We have faced similar revenue reductions in Wisconsin,” Shields wrote in his cover letter. “I have lead UW-P at a time when tuition has been frozen for four years. We have felt the burden of the largest reduction in state support in the history of the University of Wisconsin System.”

UW-Platteville has faced shrinking state funding due to a four-year, in-state undergraduate tuition freeze, according to the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. On Monday, the newspaper reported Shields cut $8.5 million from its budget from April 2015 to July 2016.

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The UW System was cut by $250 million in the 2015-2017 state budget, the newspaper reports.

Last year, Shields told the newspaper the southwest Wisconsin school of about 9,000 students faced two “existential threats” to the institution: the ability to competitively compensate faculty in order to attract and retain talent, and a lack of capital for infrastructure improvements deferred during the school’s financial crisis.

“I would like to point out that right now there’s no capital dollars, even for major repairs,” Shields told the newspaper. The comments, made in February 2016, included a warning of the need to eliminate at least 101 positions at the university — a 10 percent decrease in the total university workforce.

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“We [are] achieving this fiscal stability through a collaborative process with the shared governance bodies and strong leadership provided by our college deans,” Shields wrote in the letter to WSU. “The process was completed with transparency and mutual agreement on larger policy (judgments).”

Wright State officials have been looking for budget solutions as the university’s unrestricted reserve fund has dropped from more than $100 million in 2012 to $12.9 million as of June 30. Wright State also announced it would lay off 23 employees in October.

Despite WSU’s budgetary issues, trustee and presidential search committee chairman Doug Fecher has “no concern” in possibly hiring an administrator from another university that has struggled financially. Shields’ experience in managing budgetary issues would benefit WSU if he became the university’s next president, Fecher said.

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“There’s things you can’t control, like state funding,” Fecher said. “He has a strong record of growing things he can control.”

In 2015, Shields was one of three candidates to become Chicago State University president but was not selected, according to the university’s website. Before leading UW-Platteville, Shields served as acting vice president of student affairs at City College of New York-City University of New York. He has also held administrative positions at the Phoenix School of Law, Duke University School of Law, the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Iowa, according to his resume.

Shields will arrive at Wright State on Thursday and will participate in a staff forum at 9:15 a.m. and a student forum at 10:30 a.m., according to a schedule of events. The second presidential finalist will be announced at noon on Sunday, said spokesman Seth Bauguess.

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