Alumni Gateway

A photo of the historical marker in front of OU's Alumni Gateway from late April 2020. Photo by Conor Morris.

Ohio University will receive $19.475 million from the federal government’s CARES Act, the $2 trillion-plus federal coronavirus (COVID-19) relief and stimulus package, as institutions of higher education across the country struggle to deal with the impacts of the pandemic.

About half of that, around $9.7 million, is reserved for student emergency grant support, OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said in an email this week. She said more details of how that money will be used will be shared on Friday (OU received guidance on these funds a week ago Tuesday, she added).

“We have a workgroup developing a plan for funding distribution,” she said.

Meanwhile, OU President Duane Nellis said in a Tuesday, April 28, letter to the campus community that the negative impact of the pandemic on university revenues is expected to “increase significantly” in the coming weeks and months. While he didn’t offer any direct dollars amounts in terms of how the university might need to cut back its budget, he said in the immediate time period OU will implement a hiring freeze, with only “critical positions” being approved by a hiring committee; suspension of employee recognition awards; and a review of all in-progress capital projects and a suspension of new capital projects. Nellis also said he and OU Provost Elizabeth Sayrs have agreed to voluntarily reduce their base salaries by 15 percent for the next fiscal year, and forego any performance bonuses.

He also said OU “must” do the following: 

• “Streamline administrative functions to reduce costs in areas that do not directly impact instruction and student support;

• “Minimize layers of management where possible to focus on our academic mission; rethink the organization of our colleges and departments with a focus on supporting collaboration and innovative curriculum while reducing costs; streamline and re-focus academic support functions to ensure a continuous commitment to student success…

• “And strategically reduce our use of space while protecting the unique Ohio University student experience.”

Nellis did note that while OU had paused its already pending budget-related “personnel actions” (lay-offs and other staff reductions) in the early days of the pandemic despite OU’s growing financial troubles even before that, it’s clear that all of the university will be affected by budget reductions.

“Some of these losses have already been realized,” Nellis wrote. “As you know, we refunded prorated housing, dining and parking fees to students who were unable to return to our Athens campus after spring break, which represents slightly more than $18 million in lost revenue for the current year. We have also experienced losses in study abroad programming fees, revenue from summer camps, and, in athletics, we have experienced a reduction in NCAA revenue distribution as a result of the cancellation of winter and spring NCAA championships.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said that most agencies in Ohio will need to plan for an at least 20 percent budget reduction due to the pandemic. For OU, that would mean an $8 million “reversion” in its state funding for the current fiscal year and a reduction of approximately $35 million in the next fiscal year, Nellis said. 

Nellis added that national data suggests that students may be forced to change or delay their college plans, meaning a further negative impact on OU’s enrollment (which has declined for several consecutive years after an era of record growth).

The Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors issued a joint statement late last week calling on Ohio’s university administrations and higher education officials to “refocus” on the instructional and research missions of universities while sharing the burden of cost-cutting measures evenly.

“Our colleges and universities must take this opportunity to refocus on the instructional and research missions of our institutions,” the statement reads. “For decades, too many resources have been spent on endeavors peripheral to the core mission. There must be shared sacrifice. We cannot accept faculty furloughs, program eliminations, and other cuts that gut academics while administration, athletics, and other auxiliary ventures go unscathed.”

The OU AAUP group also noted in a "statement of principles" document issued recently that OU already was struggling financially before the pandemic, and laid the blame at the feet of administrative spending.

"Since 2012, spending on administrators and administrator salaries and benefits has increased by $37.8M above the rate of inflation even though the number of equivalent students has not increased materially," that paper reads. "This spending appears to account for the $30M deficit that OU has carried over into the pandemic crisis."

Nellis in his letter did say OU will remain “committed” to protecting its academic strength, and will do all it can to help students, faculty and staff.

OU’s Advancement office and other partners have raised about $165,000 for the Bobcats Take Care initiative, which provides emergency support to students impacted by the pandemic.

Richard Vedder, an OU emeritus professor of economics and longtime critic of the university’s administration, said in a statement Tuesday that it’s clear big cuts are coming, but said he feels that Nellis struck a promising tone in his letter.

“I was pleased that President Nellis seems to favor prioritizing the preservation of our academic core as sharp budget cuts come,” he said. “Reducing administrative bloat is critical, as Job One is to maintain our ability to do a fine job of creating and disseminating knowledge.”

IN OTHER NEWS, Hocking College in Nelsonville will receive about $2.4 million in funding from the CARES Act, with half going to student support and the rest to the college.

Hocking spokesperson Tim Brunicardi said in a statement earlier this week that the $1.2 million will go directly to students support, while the other $1.2 million will help support "technology infrastructure that was required to make the massive move to online education in March, and other costs of operation." 

"While the 50% ($1.2 million) will not cover all lost revenue or added costs, it will help support (that move)," Brunicardi said.

Bruncardi said that once fall enrollment becomes more certain, as well as state guidance is finalized on state funding, Hocking will be in a better place to "make adjustments to staffing as needed."

"We anticipate enrollment fluctuations," Brunicardi said. "What that will be is still unknown. With significant unemployment and unknown environment for transfer of the virus many local people younger and older may decide to take advantage of Hocking transfer courses and short term technical certifications and degrees in 2 years or less that lead to middle-class jobs that are not easily outsourced and with upward mobility."

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