An update on the Transformation Plan03/13/2017
Interim President Matthew J. Wilson
Before Spring Break begins, I want to provide you with an update on key initiatives and progress to date on the University’s transformation plan.
Potential Voluntary Buyout Plan
After considerable discussion and collaboration among representatives of the University administration, the University Council Talent Development and Human Resources Committee, the University Council Budget and Finance Committee, collective bargaining units on campus, and a risk management and advisory company, we have decided not to proceed with a campus-wide buyout program at this time.
I know that some of you may be disappointed in this news. However, as promised, we took the time to carefully analyze and discuss the issues. We looked at various scenarios and projections, and reached the conclusion that a wide-spread buyout program is premature.
In a joint communication today with the Akron chapter of AAUP, faculty bargaining unit members were informed that “(we) agreed that, to preserve academic quality and engage in responsible cost savings, the University would offer full time faculty a limited individualized retirement incentive approach based on Article 16, Section 11 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.” Specific details are still in development, but a key element will be to approach retirement as a career transition, rather than termination. That means individual faculty members may be offered what have been termed “connection benefits,” such as opportunities for teaching, research, service, administration, mentoring of students and others, depending on the needs of their units and the individual’s strengths and interests. Faculty who will be eligible for this transition plan will be contacted individually beginning later this month. The goal is to conclude transition discussions by early May.
If sufficient savings cannot be secured through this process, we will need to pursue other measures with a goal of stabilizing University finances while supporting students, retaining quality, and working to avoid involuntary layoffs of any category of employee.
Akron Guarantee Scholarships
I want to thank everyone involved in the successful launch of the Akron Guarantee Scholarship program last month. More than 6,000 families were notified that they had this option, which provides students more money over the life of the scholarship, incentives to complete their degree programs in four years, and a guarantee they will retain the scholarship as long as they are students in good standing. Families have until July 1 to opt into this system, but early reaction to the offer has been promising. Next year will be much simpler and more effective as we shift our admissions scholarships to the Akron Guarantee Scholarship system.
Cost Containment Success
Barring unforeseen circumstances, we will finish Fiscal 2017 within the Board of Trustees-approved budget. This is a direct result of strong collaborative efforts throughout the University to contain costs. I am grateful to all who are doing more with less. We still have a long way to go, but the fiscal discipline required by our circumstances will ultimately prove to be a source of strength. As peer institutions seek to shore up their own bottom lines by attempting to sell property or reduce payrolls, it becomes clear that challenging fiscal times are now the norm for Ohio’s public higher education system.
Following recommendations from Graduate Council and Faculty Senate, we are repositioning our graduate assistantship program to better align with that of many other Ohio public universities. Doing so will generate significant savings while also motivating students to advance to the next levels of their careers. As I have said previously, I appreciate and am grateful for the Graduate Council, the Faculty Senate and the Deans for tacking this very difficult issue.
The upward trend in freshmen enrollment data compared to last year continues to show good progress. We consistently are seeing about a 20% increase in seat deposits when compared to the same time period one year ago. We are still relatively early in the process and I commend the extra efforts that everyone is making to keep that momentum going. I continue to receive compliments about our admissions team, faculty outreach, and staff engagement. Also, I am encouraged in seeing how everyone is using our events to constantly promote the University.
Once again, I want to thank everyone for their hard work this semester and throughout this academic year. We can all take pride in the incredible resilience this community has shown, and find in that a cause for optimism and confidence as we look to the future.
Matthew J. Wilson