By Ben Peters
Athens NEWS Associate Editor
Ohio University Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Deborah Shaffer quietly accepted a $100,000 bonus in July after hundreds of university employees were laid off as the institution continues to wrestle with significant budgetary woes.
The bonus was promised to Shaffer, one of highest paid employees at the university, in March 2017 when she and OU’s Interim President David Descutner renegotiated her contract.
They decided Shaffer would be given the payment on the condition that she remain in her position as senior vice president for finance and administration until at least June 2020, the end of the university’s fiscal year, according to a copy of the amended contract obtained by The Athens NEWS.
The bonus, paid out to Shaffer on July 15, was also made at direction of the OU Board of Trustees, a university spokesperson confirmed.
Shaffer, who has worked in her current role since 2016, is widely considered to be at the forefront of restructuring the university’s finances in the face of fiscal troubles and who has played a central role in authorizing university layoffs.
She also serves as chief financial officer and treasurer of both the Board of Trustees and the OU Foundation Board of Trustees.
“It was important to the Board then, and remains important today, to strive for continuity of leadership in the fiscal management of the University,” Board of Trustees Chairwoman Janelle Coleman said in a statement. “We continue to be grateful for Deb Shafer’s leadership as we look forward toward long-term financial sustainability for Ohio University. [sic]”
When making decisions about compensation, including bonuses, OU takes into account an employee’s experience, market data specific to higher education, market influences, performance factors and position criticality, a spokesperson said.
In a regular year, Shaffer makes a base salary of $327,726, however she voluntarily agreed to take a 10 percent reduction to her pay this year because of the added financial strains put onto the university by the coronavirus pandemic.
As of July 1, she now makes a salary of $294,953 on top of the $100,000 bonus, according to the most recent version of her contract. Her salary will return to the base rate in July 2021.
In May, both OU President Duane Nellis and OU Provost Dr. Elizabeth Sayrs announced that they plan to take a 15 percent salary reduction.
Nellis’ salary before the reduction was about $489,000, plus a $71,000 bonus that was granted to him in 2019 by the Board of Trustees. His new salary after the pay cut will be about $416,000. Both Sayrs and Nellis pledged that they wouldn’t accept a bonus this year.
Faculty Senate voted in May to approve a vote of no confidence in both Shaffer and Nellis, condemning their handing of the university’s financial crisis.
OU in recent months laid off more than 400 employees in an effort to cut back on expenses as the pandemic has exacerbated the university’s already aching budgetary issues.
And the university, the single largest employer in the region by a significant margin, made a concerted effort to offer incentives for certain employees to retire early. At least 88 employees, many of whom were faculty members, accepted early retirement deals.
More than 200 instructional faculty and administrators, 140 skilled-trade workers in the ASFCME Local 1699 union, and 81 clerical and technical employees have all lost their jobs since May, prompting several Uptown protests where many expressed a great sense of anger at administrators taking what they call exorbitant bonuses.
OU also required most faculty, administrators and non-bargaining unit classified staff to take mandatory furlough days this year in an additional effort to cut costs.