Oct. 11, 2020
YSU Negotiations Update
The YSU administration and faculty union met Sunday to continue negotiations on a new three-year contract. The negotiating teams are scheduled to meet again Monday afternoon. It is still not clear if the faculty union will strike as threatened starting Monday morning. Monday and Tuesday are YSU’s Fall Break; no classes are scheduled. If a strike would spill into Wednesday, the university will remain open and is making plans to continue to offer classes. More details on those plans will be released.
Meanwhile, the university’s financial circumstances have been a source of discussion at the negotiating table as well as in the news media. Neal McNally, YSU vice president for Finance and Business Operations, offers this “White Paper” on the university’s budget.
YSU finances: Setting the record straight
By Neal McNally
YSU vice president for Finance and Business Operations
In reviewing a recent report released by the YSU faculty union, I must say that I am surprised by the union’s apparent lack of understanding of the university’s financial position. So, as the individual who is charged with management of the university’s finances, allow me to set the record straight:
- First and foremost, the union’s claim that the university has a “surplus” of between $7 and $9 million is completely inaccurate. With enrollment down 4.4 percent this semester, combined with lower state funding, the university is projected to lose $3.7 million in operating revenue this year. Declining enrollments and falling revenue are not usually indicative of a budget surplus. In fact, despite all of the cost reductions implemented so far, the university is still projecting an operating deficit of $2 million.
- On top of that, the university could face additional revenue losses of more than $10 million if the COVID-19 pandemic forces another campus shutdown, as was the case last spring. The union, instead, is accusing us of exploiting the pandemic, which is not the case. It would be irresponsible for the university to ignore the real world financial risks associated with the pandemic.
- Regarding the recently released fact finder’s report that called for 2 percent annual pay increases for faculty that would cost the university an estimated $4.2 million over the three-year contract, there appears to be some confusion as to what a fact finder’s report is and what it actually means. To be clear, a fact finder’s report is a set of non-binding recommendations that are oftentimes rejected by boards of trustees and labor unions alike. Any perception that the fact finder has judicial authority of any kind is simply wrong.
- Also in its report, the union asserts that YSU has cut spending on instruction by $13 million over the past five years. That’s simply inaccurate. A closer review of our audited financial statements shows clearly that annual spending on instruction has actually increased over the past three years to nearly $66 million in FY 2019.
- The union's report also says YSU faculty earn between 4 percent and 11 percent less than the median faculty salary at other Ohio public universities. True, our salaries are lower than other Ohio universities, but here’s a big reason why: our revenues per student are 20 percent below the state median. When your tuition is comparatively lower than other universities, your revenue will also be lower, and so your expenses need to be lower, too.
- The report suggests that YSU has inflated expenditures by continuing to budget fringe benefits for employees who were laid off or furloughed. This is simply not the case. All of the personnel reductions that have been made include savings from both wages and benefits.
- In its critique, the union also alleges that university officials have engaged in “clumsy accounting.” Here’s the simple truth: The university’s financial statements have consistently received clean audit opinions from independent accounting firms. In addition, the statements have been certified each year by the State Auditor of Ohio, and we haven’t had any audit findings or accounting issues whatsoever, which demonstrates our commitment to fiscal integrity.
- The union has accused YSU of not being transparent with its finances. But as a state university, our finances are open to the public and widely available, both on the YSU website and on the Ohio Auditor of State’s website. Moreover, the administration has responded to countless public records requests from the union.
- The union also suggests that YSU has misrepresented its financial position by over-budgeting scholarships in the graduate school. While these scholarship dollars should have been budgeted under financial aid, instead of the graduate school, the administration maintains that the overall scholarship budget, including the portion budgeted in the graduate school, is not over-funded.
- In a recent online video interview, a member of the faculty union asked “where did all the money go?” when referring to the more than $100 million in gifts and pledges raised by the YSU Foundation’s We See Tomorrow campaign. To be clear, those dollars were earmarked by donors for specific uses, such as student scholarships, endowed chairs and building improvements. It would be unethical to ignore our donors’ collective intent and redirect these gifts for anything other than those intended uses.
- And finally, I am disappointed to see the union continue to question YSU’s investment in intercollegiate athletics. Aside from our long and rich tradition of athletics, it’s important to understand that YSU student athletes generate nearly $10 million in annual revenue in the form of tuition income and state funding appropriations. Athletics, in fact, has been integral to the success of the university’s enrollment strategy.
The faculty union is certainly entitled to formulate its own assumptions and opinions about the university’s budget. But the management of the university is the responsibility of the administration, which is accountable to the YSU Board of Trustees who are entrusted with fiduciary oversight by the State of Ohio.
Thank you, stay safe, and go Penguins!