Friday, October 31, 2014

University says move isn’t linked to $24.3M student center-library effort

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 6/27/2014

Ottawa University’s move Thursday to eliminate — or reduced to half-time — 18 largely support staff positions as a cost-savings measure has no bearing on the construction of the new Gibson Student Center and Gangwish Library underway on the OU campus, 1001 S. Cedar St., Ottawa, university officials said.

The new library and student center, which represents the largest single building project ever undertaken by the university, also serves as the centerpiece of the university’s $24.3 million Advancing the Vision Capital Campaign, OU officials have said previously.

Ottawa University’s move Thursday to eliminate — or reduced to half-time — 18 largely support staff positions as a cost-savings measure has no bearing on the construction of the new Gibson Student Center and Gangwish Library underway on the OU campus, 1001 S. Cedar St., Ottawa, university officials said.

The new library and student center, which represents the largest single building project ever undertaken by the university, also serves as the centerpiece of the university’s $24.3 million Advancing the Vision Capital Campaign, OU officials have said previously.

The Advancing the Vision Capital Campaign is not part of the university’s daily operations budget that covers personnel expenses, and funds raised during the campaign are slated to enhance facilities and strengthen academic programming, scholarships, the endowment, athletics and a number of other areas of the university, OU officials said.

“The funds for new buildings such as the Gangwish Library and Gibson Student Center, and capital improvements such as in the Commons for wrestling, come primarily from restricted donations or other project-specific funding sources,” the university said in a statement released Friday. “Such funds are fundamentally of a different type than those generated from operations in that they are designated and/or restricted by the donor or the funding source for a specific use. So the university cannot use funds designated for one purpose in a way contrary to that designation or restriction. In fact, there are very specific rules and regulations for institutions of higher education, and for not-for-profit entities, that dictate how such funds must be used.”

The move to eliminate or reduce 18 positions was part of an effort to ensure a balanced budget in the new fiscal year, which begins Tuesday, university officials said Thursday. Of the affected positions, most are in staff support areas, and 14 of the personnel were based at OU’s residential campus, 1001 S. Cedar St., Ottawa, according to an OU news release.

The university declined to identify the specific positions affected by the layoffs, but issued the following statement Thursday: “The eliminated and consolidated positions were very broad based, with no more than one or two within a department or function area. The decisions were made with great thought toward right-sizing the whole institution for increased efficiency. Despite these cuts, the university continues its capital investments in new buildings, as well as the addition of new programs and people in key prospective growth areas.”

The university’s revenues from its adult, professional and online units have been flat to declining this year, with the notable exception of OU-Kansas City, which saw a sizable increase, the OU release said. As has been the case for many higher educational institutions in the past two years, adult program enrollments have been a challenge because of a number of competitive, economic and regulatory factors, university officials said.

“We sincerely regret the necessity of any reduction in force, even one as relatively modest as this one, as we have worked very hard to protect jobs for our employees,” Kevin Eichner, OU president, said. “However, prudent financial management requires that we be constantly vigilant about our cost structure even as we seek to grow our enrollments here at the college in Ottawa and through our adult sites, online, and new program expansions such as engineering, data science, finance, marketing and others.

“This type of action is, unfortunately, all too common among higher educational institutions these days, and we have been more fortunate than most to have largely avoided most such cuts until now,” Eichner said.

Of the 267 people who remain employed at Ottawa University, 150 have joined OU since 2008, Eichner said.

“The university has been and remains a vibrant jobs provider in some very tough times for higher educational institutions,” he said. “While we expect some good enrollment growth at our residential college in Ottawa this fall, with our new student deposits up a healthy 27 percent at this date, adult market pressures at some of our sites necessitate these moves now largely as a preventive measure.”

The university said it plans to continue to add new programs and hire faculty for programs, such as finance and data science, to ensure “the organization is positioned for the changing market demands and enrollment patterns we are experiencing and expect.”

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