Nellis at roundtable

OU President Duane Nellis makes a point during his lunchtime roundtable session Friday with several local news reporters. 

The Ohio University Board of Trustees last week approved a resolution granting a $72,000 bonus to President Duane Nellis, along with a $7,000 raise to his annual pay for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

In total, Nellis’ base yearly salary will now be roughly $489,000. Last year the Trustees granted Nellis – who was hired in June 2017 – a $71,000 bonus and a raise similar to the one approved last week.

The fact that Nellis was granted that level of bonus raised the ire of many on The Athens NEWS’ Facebook page last week, with some noting that the decision came as the university’s budget is in a tight spot, with the university administration earlier this year asking academic colleges on its Athens campus to cut their budgets by $19.3 million over the next four years.

Trustee Chair David Scholl introduced the resolution Friday granting the pay raise and bonus after noting that the Trustees had conducted an annual comprehensive performance evaluation for Nellis. The resolution offered a glowing evaluation of Nellis’ performance since starting at the university. Scholl cited a number of his accomplishments during that time. He said Nellis has helped the university continue to pursue multiple presidential “pathways” toward success that he introduced in 2017, centering around values of “dialogue, civility, inclusivity and diversity.”

Scholl noted that Nellis has been a staunch defender of the “transformational value of public education.”

Student Trustee Austin McClain said during the meeting that there’s a “genuine respect” from the student body for Nellis.

“I think it’s because you state what you believe, and it’s genuine, and you take the steps necessary to make those… things happen,” he said.

Nellis thanked the Trustees during the meeting for their “tremendous support” during a “really dynamic time” in higher education.

“I also want to state how much this is really a team effort by everyone in this room… I have a great group of vice presidents, my Chief of Staff Jennifer Kirksey… outstanding deans, the staff and the faculty we have,” Nellis said. 

Scholl added that the resolution will direct the university’s general counsel to update OU’s contract with Nellis to increase the level of performance bonus he’s eligible for. Normally, the maximum is 15 percent of his base salary (which resulted in the $72,000 bonus above). The new maximum for a yearly bonus for Nellis will become 20 percent of his base salary under this contract change.

Nellis’ wife also was granted an approximate $500 raise, raising her salary to roughly $36,000 a year.

Patty Stokes, an assistant professor at OU, said in a statement (for herself rather than any particular group) that she’s upset about the large bonus because of cuts that academic colleges are being asked to make and have been asked to make in recent years.

“Meanwhile, from the professors’ perspective, contingent faculty are losing their jobs or (in order to save them) being told they need to dramatically increase their individual workload,” Stokes said. “This is in response to a catastrophic budget situation that will lead to further cuts over the next few years. $72K would pay for another professor – perhaps one of us contingent folks who are about to lose our jobs.”

Chad Mitchell, chief of staff for OU’s Office of Finance and Administration, confirmed that OU budgeted a 1.5 percent raise pool for staff in the current fiscal year, with a 1.5 percent across-the-board increase for classified and union staff, while administrator and faculty raise pool distributions “were determined within each planning unit.”

For the upcoming fiscal year (2019-2020), the budget includes a 1 percent raise pool, Mitchell said.

“The distribution of that raise pool is based on merit as determined by individual departments, with a minimum of 0 percent for employees not meeting expectations and a maximum of 5 percent, at departments’ discretion (though any raises above 3 percent require senior administration approval),” Mitchell explained. “Classified employees meeting expectations will receive a 1 percent across-the-board increases, while bargaining unit (FOP and AFSCME) employees will receive a 1.5 percent increase pursuant to terms of the contracts. There is the potential for an additional, contingent raise pool effective Jan. 1, 2020, projected at 0.5 percent.”

Meanwhile, The NEWS has reported that OU’s College of Arts and Sciences is looking at $8 million in cuts over the next four years. That means a number of reductions, including that college no longer approving any new tenure-track faculty searches for the rest of 2019 or 2020, and to severely restrict any hiring of faculty in general during that time.

Stokes noted that the cost of attendance for OU students isn’t getting any cheaper, either.

“Meanwhile, housing/dining costs (mandatory for undergrads during their first two years) are $5,000 per semester at a minimum,” Stokes said. “This pays for a shared room where the hot water sometimes works and sometimes floods, and just 14 meals per week (the lowest level) without any of the Bobcat cash that the university tries to sell parents on. So, even with a full scholarship (and disregarding books), living expenses at OU total $10,000 per academic year.

“Last I heard, you need professors and students to have a university,” Stokes concluded. “Both are being squeezed. No one is even discussing cuts to the Athletics budget, which receives a $20 million annual subsidy (from student tuition and fees).”

Consternation over top OU administrators’ salaries is nothing new, and former OU President Roderick McDavis also was the target of much ire when he received bonuses and salary raises over the years. Nellis is currently OU’s third highest-paid employee, next to men’s basketball coach Jeff Boals ($581,000) and football coach Frank Solich ($515,331 in 2018-2019).

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