Statement from Michael C. Bridges, Chair of the Wright State University Board of Trustees:
The Wright Brothers earned national acclaim for Ohio and the Dayton area when their innovation and ingenuity resulted in the world’s first powered aircraft. More than a century later, the state university that bears the name of these pioneers of potential has earned national acclaim for education, as we transform the lives of our students and the communities we serve. As a result, our reputation for excellence has taken flight.
But, over the last two years, our university has seen problems that, left unattended, could cause our reputation to lose altitude. It started in 2015, when federal authorities discovered serious issues surrounding a visa program that allows highly skilled international workers to come to America to share their skills and expertise. Evidence emerged that some Wright State employees permitted some international workers sponsored by the university to be utilized at off-campus businesses that were essentially reimbursing the university for the work, potentially in violation of the law.
The university Board of Trustees, a group of volunteers whom I lead as Chair, acted immediately to find out what happened. At the same time we offered our complete cooperation to federal authorities. But we went even further than that.
Because we suspected that there may be other policy and administrative deficiencies that were limiting the university’s chances for success, we asked our attorneys to bring in expert auditors and management consultants to look for other issues, particularly at the Wright State Research Institute and the Wright State Applied Research Corporation, which serves as the administrative agency for the research institute and Wright State.
That audit looked at the years 2011-2015 and it found several issues that needed to be addressed. We welcomed the findings, as troubling as they were. Most involved lax practices and procedures and none of the issues affected the core work of what we do – educating students.
However, reviewing these findings, I was most troubled by what seemed to be a lack of accountability and transparency in some of the work the university and its affiliated entities were undertaking. We’re a public university and we must be open and forthright in our policies and processes.
The trustees worked with university administration to make several changes to help ensure that these problems will not occur again. We upgraded our compliance program, including the additions of a new director of compliance across the university, as well as a new director of research compliance. We expanded the university’s legal team to keep pace with compliance demands.
We pushed for other improvements too. For example, we enhanced administrative accountability by splitting oversight duties previously held by just the provost, empowering the provost with academic oversight and the president with operational oversight responsibilities. We also implemented new uniform contract review procedures for purchasing.
Finally, with respect to the federal visa issues, we empowered an outside law firm to review existing international worker visas and to manage the process for future hiring.
Although state law permitted us to keep this audit confidential, last week the trustees unanimously voted to make the report public so all could see the problems in years past and the work we’ve done to resolve them.
The board also directed the administration to terminate the employees most responsible for the problems and to seek legal remedies to allow the university to be compensated for the expenses involved in the investigation.
I love this university. I met my wife here and we’re both proud Wright State graduates, as are our two children, and now my granddaughter studies here. Seeing this great institution grapple with these problems has troubled me greatly. But, as a university leader, it’s my job to help lead the way through this.
That’s why we’ve taken responsibility, acknowledged the difficulties, and moved quickly to fix them. We did that because it’s the right thing to do and it’s the Wright State thing to do.
As we celebrate our 50th anniversary as a university, our core mission is to prepare our students for careers that will be demanding. Once they leave our campus, they will face challenges that may appear too big to overcome. In that way, they are a lot like Wilbur and Orville Wright. Those sons of the Miami Valley encountered many failures and letdowns before they finally made history and changed the world.
This university, named for and inspired by those great Ohioans, will carry on in the face of adversity. That’s because the true measure of an institution is not whether it experiences problems and falls short of its mission. Rather, an exceptional university like Wright State must be judged based on how it responds to those problems.
We’ve responded and we’ve done so with accountability and transparency. And, in the spirit of Wilbur and Orville, we’re more committed than ever before to helping our graduates go on to make history.