Over the last 12 – 15 months, the business community and our chamber of commerce have continued to watch the progress that Wright State University has made in turning around its 2012 – 2017 financial deficiencies. We all remember the headlines dating back more than 2 years ago when the community discovered that Wright State had serious financial woes and would have to make more than $25 million in cuts to correct its deficits and right its budget. The Board of Trustees installed new leadership over a year ago to make those changes.
For years, Wright State University had not been reporting its financial picture clearly to its Board and was spending down its reserves at an alarming rate. I know all but one of the Board of Trustee members personally; and am sure they had to make some dramatic and strategic decisions on how best to turn around this giant institution or face state sanctions. Making some tough decisions on budget cuts by a short-term, interim president was a good first step; but hiring the next leader … the right leader … was paramount to righting this ship in the long run.
I have observed the new president Cheryl B. Schrader over these past fifteen months and believe she has the intelligence and insight, along with strong shoulders and the backbone that it will take to turn around this outstanding university. She and her new management team have also had to make some very hard decisions, including a cultural shift of not being all things to all people, right-sizing personnel and other services and more. That is what we call “tough love”. That’s what it takes to climb out of a $25 million hole.
But the university is already reporting a surplus of over $10 million for FY18, the first time since 2012. President Schrader has recruited or elevated new leaders on campus who will make the fiscal and cultural changes needed which will, in the long run, be best for its students, faculty and staff and our community.
Wright State is a critically important educational institution that we need here in the Miami Valley. With about 17,000 students, its regional economic impact is more than $1.5 billion; but more importantly, it is a major factor in the affordable public education and training of our future, short-term and long-term workforce and leadership in the Dayton region.
Many leaders will continue to watch Wright State University’s progress, knowing that a fact-finding report is due out in late October that may define the school’s future relationship with its faculty union. My guess is there will be some logical constraints that both sides will have to accept in order to get to a win-win. However, we must all show a bit of restraint and patience going forward. The most important point in all of this is that we must not let this important and impactful higher-education institution fail. Just the opposite … it must grow and prosper. We must all support it, its professional leaders, board and employees and expect that a positive cultural shift will change Wright State University for the better going forward and not allow this same dilemma to never, ever happen again.
Phillip L. Parker, CAE, CCE
President and CEO
Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce