A year of highs and lows at WSU

David Hopkins received a raise and bonus despite controversy, probes.

David Hopkins

Age: 67

Position: Wright State University president

Education: College of Wooster, bachelor’s in physical education and master’s in math; Indiana University, doctorate in kinesiology.

Experience: Indiana State University, administrative positions including department chair, vice president for academic affairs, and interim provost,1988-2003; Wright State University, provost 2003-2007; Wright State University president, 2007-current. Chair of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, member of the NCAA Division I executive committee and board of directors, chair of the Wright Brothers Institute and chair of the Advanced Technical Intelligence Center.

Family: married to Angelia, six children.

This newspaper over the past year has broken numerous stories related to the operations at Wright State University and its spending, including revealing the existance of the now-suspended contract with consultant Ron Wine. It was the newspaper’s reporting that led to investigations by the Ohio Attorney General’s office and Joint Legislative Ethics Committee.

Triumphs, controversies at WSU

October 2014: Wright State University launches its Rise, Shine campaign. The $150 million fundraising campaign is led by Tom Hanks and Amanda Wright Lane, great grandniece of Orville and Wilbur Wright.

May 2015: WSU suspends provost Sundaram Narayanan, senior advisor to the provost Ryan Fendley, chief general counsel Gwen Mattison and a researcher Phani Kidambi. No reason is given.

May 2015: WSU signs a contract with Ron Wine Consulting Group, allowing the firm to bill the university up to $1 million a year through mid-2019. In exchange, Wine’s firm is expected to garner at least $10 million in state funding each year for the next two years, score $140 million in federal contracts over the next three years and help the school sustain $100 million in annual research by mid-2018.

June 2015: WSU announces it has hired the law firm Dinsmore and Shohl and auditing firm Plante Moran to handle an outside investigation and conduct an internal investigation.

August 2015: WSU officials confirm they are under federal investigation for use of the H-1B temporary work visa program. Fendley is fired. Narayanan and Kidambi are terminated from their administrative posts but remain on leave as tenured faculty. Mattison retires after signing a $300,000 separation agreement.

August 2015: Wright State Research Institute announces it has won its largest research aware in school history: up to $42.5 million to support the Air Force Research Lab.

September 2015: The Commission on Presidential Debates chooses Wright State to host the first presidential debate of the 2016 general election.

September 2015: An investigation by this newspaper finds WSU sponsored 19 foreign workers who came to the United States not to attend college but to work at an area information technology staffing company that paid the workers less than what local graduates typically make for similar IT work.

November 2015: An investigation by this newspaper reveals the Wine contract, that the university paid Wine nearly $1 million in 2014 without a written contract in effect, and that Wine was not a registered lobbyist. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine launches an investigation into whether Wine was required to register as a lobbyist.

January 2016: Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger asks the state Joint Legislative Ethics Committee to review whether WSU officials broke any rules after this newspaper revealed emails from Wine to Hopkins advising the WSU president to ask for state funding while offering Rosenberger political fundraising aid. WSU suspends Wine’s contract.

February 2016: Rosenberger advises Ohio House members to use caution when dealing with Wright State, saying “clearly they can’t handle themselves right now.” DeWine’s and OLIG’s investigations ends with no evidence Wine or WSU broke any laws.

April 2016: State Rep. Mike Duffey, chairman of the House Higher Education Finance Subcommittee, proposes legislation expanding Ohio’s lobbying laws in response to the finding that Wine’s work was not lobbying.

In the past 12 months as Wright State University president, David Hopkins removed his provost and long-time general counsel, opened the books for a federal investigation into immigration visas and faced scrutiny over paying an outside consultant $1 million a year for economic development advice.

But he’s also had some unquestioned success, including helping secure perhaps the school’s biggest national accolade since its founding as an independent institution in 1967: being named the host university for the first presidential debate on Sept. 26.

At the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting last week, Hopkins said the event may be the most watched presidential debate in history.

“The eyes of the world will turn to Dayton,” he said.

The highs and lows over the past year couldn’t be more stark, and the missteps and scandals raise questions about whether lasting damage has been done to the university’s reputation and its relationship with state leaders.

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, a Wright State graduate, was livid when he discovered that Ron Wine, Hopkins’ trusted $1 million-a-year consultant, advised Hopkins in two separate emails that the university president should offer help hosting a political fundraiser at the same time it was asking for state funding assistance from Rosenberger.

Rosenberger referred the matter to the legislative ethics committee and told his fellow state representatives to be wary in their dealings with Wright State: “I said use caution on everything because clearly they can’t handle themselves right now.”

Another Republican lawmaker, state Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, is drafting legislation to expand Ohio’s lobbying laws in response to Wright State’s consulting contract with Wine.

“If lobbyists are able to masquerade as consultants in the state of Ohio, if we allow this to be a loophole people can drive a truck through, then there’s all sorts of disclosure issues,” Duffey said.

High-pressure job

In the center of this storm is Hopkins, who in February marked nine years as university president. His is a high-pressure, demanding job that requires managing a $400 million budget and 3,800 employees, tending to 770 acres over two campuses, running a medical school as well as sports programs, nurturing a $92 million endowment, and raising millions of dollars from deep-pocketed donors and alumni.

This newspaper asked to sit down with Hopkins and discuss the recent events and impact on the school, but he declined, saying he prefers to wait until the investigations are concluded. He has been a visible presence, however. This week alone he spoke at the chamber meeting and posed for photographs at the Nutter Center with new men’s basketball coach Scott Nagy.

The investigations have cast a cloud on the university at a time when it could otherwise be celebrating its successes. The university has raised $129 million toward a $150 million fundraising goal, secured $25 million in state funding for a new federal research network that could eventually generate jobs and federal contracts statewide, and its research arm landed the largest government contract in university history.

All told, the award to the Wright State Research Institute could be worth up to $42.5 million over six years.

Also under Hopkins leadership, the Rise Shine fundraising campaign launched with star power behind it. Actor Tom Hanks, who has a personal connection to a Wright State theatre professor, agreed to be national co-chairman of the campaign. He’ll be on campus April 19 for an invitation-only fundraising gala and other events.

“I think that Dave is visionary,” said Michael Bridges, a 1981 WSU grad and chairman of the Wright State Board of Trustees. “He recognized what the university was when he showed up years ago and what it could be — a key part of the economic development framework of the region.”

In January the trustees gave Hopkins a 2 percent raise, boosting his base pay to $432,806, and approving a $79,560 bonus.

Overall, his compensation package is worth more than $720,000 a year.

Son of a steel mill worker

Born in Portsmouth, David Hopkins, 67, grew up in Elyria, the only son of a postman and a steel mill worker. His dad had a 10th grade education but his parents instilled in their son the belief that education is transformative.

At Elyria High School, he was a standout basketball and baseball player who also had a knack for mathematics. First in his family to go to college, Hopkins played center field for the College of Wooster and earned a degree in physical education and then a master’s degree in math. He went on to earn a doctorate in kinesiology from Indiana University and his research focused on fitness and aging.

Hopkins and his wife, Angelia, had six kids and raised them in a household focused on sports and education.

“Our father was an only child, which is why he wanted so many kids. He excels at everything he does. If you speak to people who worked with Dad, they will say he is a person who truly cares about others. He leads by serving others, by being an example,” Hopkins’ daughter, Jody, said at his inauguration as WSU president.

Hopkins moved into university administration at Indiana State University and joined Wright State as provost in 2003. He became president six years later.

In a written statement, Hopkins said he is proud of the fact that Wright State serves students from a variety of backgrounds at an affordable price. Nearly one-third are first generation college students and one in five is over the age of 25.

Last year, WSU opened a neuroscience engineering building, a “student success” center for tutoring and academic advising, and a military and veterans center.

Hopkins, whose four-year contract runs to June 30, 2017, said his biggest challenge is the loss of state and federal funds in higher education.

“We’ve succeeded in keeping our tuition levels low in comparison to our peers, but have felt the brunt of state support for instruction that has shrunk in nine years from nearly 25 percent of our budget when I became president to about 20 percent today. Still we remain steadfastly committed to providing the same high quality education and services as we always have and our ability to maintain and improve upon that standard in this financial climate is also a tremendous success story in my book,” he said in his statement.

‘We need to look into it more’

Whatever success the school has had has been tinged with controversy over the past year.

A federal investigation into how Wright State applied for H-1B visas for foreign workers has now spanned nearly a year.

Neither federal nor university officials will give details on the probe. But an investigation by this newspaper found the university sponsored 19 foreign workers who came to the U.S. to do information technology work at a local company. Such visas require that the sponsoring entity have an employer-employee relationship with the worker.

The federal investigation led to a huge administrative upheaval.

General Counsel Gwen Mattison and the university reached a $300,000 settlement in September, prompting her to retire after 33 years with a promise not to sue. Provost Sundaram Narayanan and Wright State Research Institute researcher Phani Kidambi were fired from their administrative positions and remain on suspension as faculty. Ryan Fendley, who worked as Narayanan’s assistant, was dismissed and has filed two lawsuits against WSU.

Hopkins’ dealings with Wine — exposed by this newspaper — added further to outside concerns of how the university was being run.

In 2009, Hopkins hired Wine, a former Dayton Development Coalition president, as an economic development consultant. Wine’s deal with the university quickly expanded from $72,000 in 2009 to nearly $1 million in 2014, a year in which no written contract with Wine can be located.

Ohio Auditor Dave Yost’s office is reviewing payments to Wine as part of the university’s regular state audit, which is due to be completed soon.

Then in May 2015, Wright State inked another agreement that would allow Wine’s company to bill up to $1 million a year through mid-2019. The latest deal was suspended after this newspaper raised questions about the arrangement.

According to emails between Wine and Hopkins as well as Hopkins’ calendar, Wine has regular access to Hopkins and consistently offered detailed advice. In a Jan. 22, 2015, email to Hopkins, Wine suggested that he could help Hopkins craft his legacy as WSU president: “I will take a shot at a legacy list for you to review and you can compare it to yours,” he wrote.

In November 2015, Wine wrote a memo under Hopkins’ name and directed Hopkins’ secretary to send it. “Teresa — Please email the note below to Dennis Andersh, Bob Fyffe and me from Dr. Hopkins in preparation for our meeting next Thursday, Nov. 10 at 11 am. Preferably by COB today please,” Wine wrote.

For his part Wine has been very complimentary toward Hopkins. In a January interview he said, “It’s been an honor for me to work with him, to be honest.”

But in the same interview Wine took credit for positioning Wright State as an economic player in the Miami Valley.

“It’s been a very productive time and without patting myself on the back I think we’ve been pretty successful at what we set out to do in terms of making Wright State a more viable economic asset in the Dayton region and for that matter in the state of Ohio in the last year or two,” he said.

Bridges credits Hopkins — not Wine — for that success.

“We’ve always looked to Dr. Hopkins and the administration for their goal-setting and their visions and how to accomplish it,” he said. “The degree to which he used an outside consultant for that, he would have to speak to that. I give Dr. Hopkins credit for the direction of the university over the last nine years.”

The university late last year suspended Wine’s contracts during state probes. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s investigators have since determined that Wine did not violate any lobbying laws and the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee did not find evidence that Hopkins followed Wine’s advice to offer political fund-raising help while also asking for state funds.

But in an interview, Duffey suggested that state lawmakers may not be finished reviewing Wine’s contract with the university, which remains suspended.

“It was either a vastly excessive expenditure, or it was an illegal expenditure,” he said. “In either case, we need to look into it more.”

Faculty pressure

In February, the WSU Faculty Senate expressed frustration at the hits the university is taking, saying: “So it is not surprising that, given the frequent, almost weekly bastings the institution has been getting in the news since summer, the faculty have become increasingly unhappy, frustrated, and cynical.”

The faculty senate stepped up pressure for more transparency on university finances and the use of external consultants.

“I like Dave Hopkins. He’s a really nice guy. I disagree with some of the priorities he has pushed for the university,” said Rudy Fichtenbaum, a recently retired WSU economics professor who is a campus advisor to the faculty union. “I also think that even if he isn’t personally involved with this whole series of scandals, he should have known about them and been more on top of things.”

He added, “I think there have been a lot of missteps with the budget, planning and general priorities for the institution. I certainly have some concerns about the direction the institution is taking.”

When pressed for details, Fichtenbaum said Wright State spends too much money on consultants, administrators and intercollegiate athletics and not enough on full-time tenured faculty.

Bridges lays blame for the immigration investigation on just a handful of employees and on sloppy business practices for some of the problems. He says both veins of problems are being addressed.

“Because we have grown so much in the last few years that we are doing some catching up on things like compliance and contracting and even the way we expand our physical facility,” he said. “We are going in the right direction.”

Sinclair Community College President Steven Johnson and University of Dayton President Daniel Curran both credited Hopkins with working to strengthen ties between Wright State and their institutions.

Johnson, who has led Sinclair since 2003, said hard work and a “can-do” attitude is part of Hopkins’ formula for success.

“Being a champion of students is another hallmark of Dave Hopkins,” he said.

Staff Writer Josh Sweigart contributed to this report.