RIO GRANDE — According to information provided by unnamed faculty sources, the faculty body at the University of Rio Grande took a vote of no confidence in the respective boards of trustees for the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College on April 18 to voice their concerns with the educational institutions’ direction.
In a letter describing the body’s reason for no confidence, the text states the faculty takes issue with four points it alleges as “financial mismanagement,”“lack of continuity in campus leadership,”“failure to enact a long-term strategic plan,” and “failure to collaboratively govern” the college and university.
While the University of Rio Grande is legally a private entity and Rio Grande Community College is legally public, both are considered to function as a single institution, described the statement. RGCC collects public money and contracts with URG for its instructional services. Students get a reduced tuition amount for their first two years of study and final year coursework charges a higher tuition, which the letter states is meant to mirror other community and private institutions. The “structure is intended to provide students with a high quality, affordable and seamless education…” The dual institutions therefore have their own respective boards.
“The URG faculty body has demonstrated a clear commitment to working diligently and collaboratively with the administration to weather these challenges and to ensure the long-term viability of the institution,” further states the letter. “However, it is now evident that these challenges are due to failings of the two-board system to govern the institution effectively, and it is now incumbent upon the faculty to express unequivocal concern. Immediate transformative changes are needed within the governing boards.”
Under financial mismanagement the body says, “Considering our institutional finances are primarily supported by tuition revenue, accurate enrollment predictions are the crux of judicious budgetary management. The persistent pattern in budget deficits, which have been observed and compounded for over a decade, is indicative of chronically over-inflated enrollment projections. Regional, state, and local trends from a decade ago should have resulted in cautious institutional budgets based on decreased enrollment projections. The state of Ohio predicted a 12% decline in high school graduates from 2009 to 2022, with college enrollment in the entire Appalachian region being predicted to continue to lag behind state and national enrollment, and the K-12 enrollments throughout the surrounding four-county region were predicted to be flat as well. However, the institution’s annual budgets over this period were repeatedly based on projected increases in enrollment, leading to persistent and severe budget deficits. This trend has continued…”
Under lack of continuity in campus leadership the body says, “Continuity in leadership is critical to the institution’s ability to understand and advance its central mission, and for long-term strategic planning. In recent years, the institution has suffered from a severe degree of administrative turnover that has perpetually stalled critical transformative changes for more than a decade. Since 2006, a total of nine different presidents/interim presidents have presided over the institution—Dorsey (2006), Koby (2006), Sojka (2006-2008), Harrison (2008-2009), Wood (2009), Danley-Gellman (2009-2014), Harrison (2014), Johnston (2014-2018), and Clark (2018-2019). A similar degree of turnover has also occurred in both the Chief Academic Officer position (five CAOs since 2006) and in the Chief Financial Officer position (six CFOs since 2006). Since 2006, that is an average of 1.4 years per president, 2.6 years per CAO, and 2.2 years per CFO…”
Under failure to enact a long-term strategic plan the body says, “Fiscal mismanagement and high rates of turnover in leadership positions have led to a fundamental lack of development of and follow through on a comprehensive strategic plan for operational success and institutional growth. The institution needs a clear operational identity. Pivotal decisions have been made in the past—and are still being made—without any clear justification or rationale and without a sense of how any of the decisions work in tandem to promote the institution into its future. Without a current, comprehensive strategic plan, our leadership relies on reactionary decisions to solve short-term problems when our institution—as with any other sustainable organization—needs a focused plan for success, identifiable short-, mid-, and long-term goals, and leadership with the vision, experience, and ability to create transformational change, maintain sustainability, and promote growth…”
Under failure to collaboratively govern the body says, “It is our belief that each of the above grievances emanate from an inability of the two boards to govern collaboratively. A single institution of higher education cannot be effectively governed by two separate boards of trustees with two separate focuses that have a systemic lack of collaboration between them. This is the primary challenge facing our institution. Many interactions between the two boards are best described as contentious. Fiscal management, public transparency, and academic oversight have been recurring and unresolved issues of contention between the two boards. The two boards’ lack of a shared institutional vision due to the divided nature of RGCC/URG and their different agendas results in the boards often working against each other and not with each other. As a recent example, the hiring of the jointly appointed interim president to govern the institution was immediately met with the promotion and expansion of responsibilities for the head administrator of RGCC, indicating an initial lack of confidence in the jointly appointed president. This is but one example of subversive strategies that have been a chronic threat to the institution, hindering the development of a sustainable model for our academic services. And at a time when significant cuts to academic programs and faculty positions are occurring, and URG is struggling to make payments on an old pension plan and to adequately maintain campus facilities, RGCC is holding significant reserves for future needs and in fear of mismanagement. This serves as further evidence of a deep schism and incoherency in operational strategies and institutional management. There is a systemic frailty in cohesive governance between the two boards. As a result, the current identity of the institution is wholly unclear.”
Reporters from Ohio Valley Publishing received statements from board members with RGCC and URG following questions about the no-confidence declaration.
“…The University of Rio Grande Board of Trustees has pledged to make positive steps toward improving communications with the University of Rio Grande faculty and the Rio Grande Community College Board of Trustees,” read a statement from URG’s Board of Trustees Chair Kay Ervin. “This pledge is being faithfully acted upon, and although a faculty vote of no confidence in the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College’s Boards of Trustees occurred on April 18, we will continue to communicate in a positive and constructive manner.”
Ervin’s statement continued: “…The University of Rio Grande’s Board of Trustees has heard the sentiments of the faculty members and is committed to working together in a constructive manner for the benefit of the communities and students served by the institution. With the students and community in mind, the University of Rio Grande is committed to moving forward in a positive, productive way. The URG Board has already engaged in substantive efforts to resolve difficult issues. As an example, in November of 2018, the trustees of the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College met together for a shared board retreat to discuss how the Boards could work together more closely and potentially combine to become one board. This potential resolution was reviewed by legal parties and members of both boards, resulting in a conclusive decision that due to legal considerations, the two boards could not become consolidated into one board. Recommendations are currently being examined by both boards as to how the Boards can better work together in the future…”
Ervin said the URG board members met after the vote with the URG Faculty Association and Faculty Assembly to discuss concerns and solutions to those concerns and encourage continued participation in board meetings.
“Working together, I am confident we can ensure a bright future for Rio students and the community,” read the statement from Ervin. “The URG Board of Trustees is committed to working diligently to provide support to all our stakeholders; students, faculty, staff and the community.”
Chair of the RGCC Board of Trustees Paul Reed released in a statement that he commended the faculty for expressing concerns and “demanding excellence from the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College.”
He goes on to describe that the current structure of RGCC and URG is a result of “what is written in the Ohio Revised Code.” He calls it an “antiquated solution that worked years ago but doesn’t allow for the institutions to operate at their best today.”
“Over the last several decades the University of Rio Grande has seen a decline in enrollment; at its peak serving thousands of students to just under 400 today,” continues Reed in the statement. “Meanwhile, with over 1,200 students enrolled, Rio Grande Community College underwrites the operations of the University of Rio Grande to the tune of nearly $14 million per year. Further, Rio Grande Community College has responded to the needs of our communities with the development of the centers in Jackson, Vinton and Meigs counties. This development has allowed us to serve students’ needs where they are, giving needed access to education in our communities. In 2018 the two boards, recognizing the need to work with one voice, attempted to construct a way to operate as one board. However, the law requires that governing authority of the community college remain with the appointed trustees and prohibits a joint board of governance. We are currently tied to this broken and antiquated structure that served a different landscape of higher education when it was created in the 1970s.”
“The current arrangement was designed to allow the public board of Rio Grande Community College to contract with the private board of the University of Rio Grande for operational services,” continues the statement. “Under this arrangement, the community college contracts for services to the tune of 96% of public funds being used to purchase instructional services from the private institution. A major shortcoming of the current structure is that while the community college brings in the majority of the operating revenue and is responsible for 75% of the students, the community college’s board has no ability to hire the top administration of our combined institutions and by design, has no authority over the operating decisions that impact our students. Furthermore, Rio Grande Community College is required by law to maintain reserves and is restricted by state law in the ways those reserves can be spent.”
Reed’s statement concluded: “The Board of the Rio Grande Community College knows that business as usual is leading to failure and wants to work with the University of Rio Grande Board and the Ohio legislature to build a solution beneficial to our students and our community. These institutions do not belong to any one board or administration, they belong to us all. As such, we must set aside ideas of how it used to be, roll up our sleeves and get to work for the good of our beloved Rio and to ensure the health of both institutions.”
According to information obtained from URG and RGCC Interim President Dr. Catherine Clark and the institutions’ Office of Institutional Research, “From Fall, 2014 to Fall, 2018 the Rio Grande Community College headcount declined by 23% from 1769 to 1365; the University of Rio Grande headcount declined by 11% from 459 to 409.”
(Editor’s note: Ohio Valley Publishing did reach out to faculty representatives for comment regarding this article. Those faculty representatives indicated comments were forthcoming.)
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.