Photo Caption: OU President Roderick McDavis
At the first Ohio University Faculty Senate meeting of the fall, President Roderick McDavis discussed a proposal being considered in the Ohio Legislature that would cut red tape for universities in exchange for meeting financial and academic requirements.
Higher education Chancellor Jim Petro presented the proposal, called the Enterprise University plan, to the Ohio General Assembly and Gov. John Kasich in August in order to give universities more autonomy in return for meeting certain criteria.
"The first part of the plan includes mandate relief for universities," McDavis said. "The second part of the plan would require universities to invest an agreed-upon portion of their state share of instruction, or SSI, to a preeminent scholars award or other programs of recognition aimed at keeping and attracting academically successful students in our state."
In a nutshell, the proposal would reduce redundant and outdated mandates and regulations, giving universities more independence by reducing some state supervision, in exchange for returning a yet-to-be-determined percentage of SSI funding. The idea is to give the schools an opportunity to create revenue while reducing expenditure.
The big question facing Ohio's public universities is whether they stand to generate enough revenue through mandate relief to maintain their operations after losing a chunk of state funding. For example, simply reducing duplicative reporting that must be submitted both to Ohio and the U.S. departments of education could save thousands of dollars in personnel hours for universities should the bill pass.
In its current state, the plan is completely optional for universities, and McDavis has yet to take a position.
McDavis' chief of staff, Becky Watts, said that if the bill makes it through the legislative process, the decision of whether to participate in becoming an Enterprise University will ultimately lie with the OU Board of Trustees.
"The goal would be to maintain a very high degree of accountability and meeting of standards but reducing the bureaucracy that's required for some of that," she said.
Watts added, "But the challenge is, will it be the right thing for your university? And every university in the state will have to ask that question for themselves."
Several faculty senators questioned the proposal. Professor Judith Lee, senator from the College of Communications, said that when it comes to the idea that OU is a public institution serving a public interest primarily for the student, "I think we're tinkering with something that's really profound."
McDavis stressed that the decision to participate belongs to OU. "If we feel strongly that this would change the focus of who we are, we can walk away. We do not have to do this at the end of the day."
Faculty Senate Chair Joe McLaughlin said that he has yet to form on opinion on becoming an Enterprise University. "Like the president was saying, there's so many aspects to it, and we just have lots of questions, and we don't have the answers yet," he said.
McLaughlin added that he had hoped to see curricular mandates that have been connected with the University System of Ohio addressed in the proposal.
"I think faculty have lost some control over the curriculum... but unfortunately that's not the kind of mandates they're talking about (reducing)," he said.
When it comes to the upcoming year, McLaughlin said, "I really hope that we don't the same agonizing discussion over the budget again this coming year. I think that there will be challenges and issues but... I think we have more stable information this year, and that that process, while it won't be easy, will be easier."