Marshall University focuses on finances
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - In the wake of a ringing vote of no confidence from the school's faculty, Marshall University's administration is scrambling to put its financial house in order.
Wednesday's no confidence vote in President Stephen Kopp was in reaction to his handling of budget issues: Last month he swept money in departmental accounts into one central holding account controlled by his office -- all overnight and without warning to faculty or the affected departments.
Kopp has repeatedly said the move was a necessary reaction to state budget cuts -- Marshall is facing a $5 million cut in state funding. That's nearly 9 percent of the institution's operating budget.
Kopp has said he hoped that moving the money -- nearly $10 million in all -- into a central account would enable administrators to better monitor spending, and better plan for future spending.
Even as he apologized for the act -- a move that even his supporters say was obtuse and ill conceived -- he has maintained that Marshall's current finance model doesn't suit an institution of its size.
"We have to find ways to make ends meet," Marshall Chief of Staff Matt Turner said Thursday. "These looming budget deadlines have to be met."
That argument has left many faculty members unsatisfied, but seems to have allayed Marshall's governing board, which Kopp ultimately answers to. Board Chairman Joseph Touma released a statement Wednesday in support of Kopp.
In an attempt to pacify the faculty and students, though, the board of governors voted in its April 18 meeting to table Kopp's budget proposal.
The faculty decided to go forward with a no confidence vote anyway, maintaining the lack of transparency Kopp had exhibited so far created a nearly irreparable level of distrust.
Kopp's sweeping budget proposals would have included revisions to the way the university structures tuition and fees, development of a new system to deal with students who participate only in online courses, and modification to "the allocation method of certain resources," among other things.
All these changes would have been taken into account as the university formulates its budget for the 2014 fiscal year.
In the wake of the controversy, though, Kopp formed a budget work group to confer on these same issues.
Some faculty members have complained about the makeup of that group -- it's composed of people from various university constituencies but detractors argue it's filled with favorites of the administration and hardly representative of the community's real viewpoints.
Turner acknowledged the group's flaws but said they are only a result of its hasty formation. A second, more deliberate budget-planning group will be created soon and will take a broader look at Marshall's budget issues.
They're on a tight schedule. The state legislative session started later than usual because of the gubernatorial election, which meant a delay in the approval of the state budget -- Marshall couldn't plan its own budget until it was known how much state funding could be expected.
The preliminary expenditure schedule is due Monday. The board of governors is coming together for a special meeting next Thursday to consider a tuition and fee schedule -- which is due to the Higher Education Policy Commission the next day.
The school is also dealing with an openly antagonistic faculty and students who have been vocal in their opposition to any tuition increases.
Turner said the president has promised he is "trying to control or minimize" any tuition increases but hasn't ruled out some might be necessary.
A "soft" hiring freeze has also been in place since early April, though hires for essential positions are still being considered.
Finance professor Dallas Brozik said it's unlikely Kopp will be able to guide the university through this difficult transition without also breeding more resentment among faculty.
"If they continue trying to do business as usual, this level of distrust is going to remain so high we won't function," he said.
Alan Gould, a former faculty member and administrator at Marshall who now runs the school's John Deaver Drinko Academy, has been vocal in his support of. He maintains that it's because the financial outlook is so rocky that Kopp's presence is necessary.
"Like in marriage, it's finances that cause the greatest problem," he said. "It isn't anything else that you might think, it's money and money worries. That's true with anything but especially as something as fragile in its own way as education."
With Kopp at the helm, he said, the school at least has continuity on its side, and institutional knowledge.
"Clearly the faculty wanted to make their opinion heard and they did that," Turner said. "And we're listening and we're really seeing this as an opportunity to work together, because we have to. We just have to. These challenges have to be overcome."
Contact writer Shay Maunz at email@example.com or 304-348-4886.
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