Ohio University President Resigns, Will Return To Teaching

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Ohio University’s president is stepping down at the end of June after four challenging years marked by big enrollment declines and financial struggles.

Duane Nellis, who is four years into a six-year contract, said Thursday he plans to stay at the university as a member of the faculty.

“I have decided to return to the important work of teaching, research and discovery – the very passions that motivated my career path in higher education a few decades ago,” he said in a prepared statement.

The university’s board of trustees is expected to name an interim president in the coming days as it launches a national search for a new president.

Nellis had recently stepped down as president of Texas Tech University when the board hired him to replace outgoing Ohio University President Roderick McDavis, who resigned in early 2017.

Nellis took the helm just as the university’s run of record-breaking enrollment peaked and then began a steady decline, creating budget shortfalls that have resulted in hundreds of layoffs and other cutbacks.

The university’s senior leaders struggled to adjust to new market realities that intensified competition for students. Meanwhile, other universities in Ohio saw their enrollments grow as OU’s sank to levels not seen in decades. The administration’s handling of the downturn led to a vote of no confidence in Nellis last year by the Faculty Senate.

The coronavirus pandemic compounded the university’s enrollment and financial challenges as the campus shut down last March and then began a process of gradual reopening, which is still underway.

Nellis oversaw a recent overhaul of the university’s marketing and recruiting operations as it works to rebuild enrollment.

“President Nellis has been a collaborative, smart, gracious leader who was always focused on ensuring the university was well positioned to serve students today and in the years to come,” Janelle Coleman, chair of the board of trustees, said in a prepared statement. “He has served honorably during a time of great challenge not just for Ohio University but for higher education, and we have been proud to partner with him on many important initiatives that have moved our university forward.”

Nellis signed a six-year contract with a base pay of $475,000 when he was hired in March 2017. Subsequent raises brought his base pay up to $489,357, although for the last year Nellis has taken a voluntary 15 percent pay cut because of the budget crunch. At the same time, mandatory furloughs were imposed on all regular university employees to cut costs.

It is not yet clear what Nellis will be paid as he returns to teaching.

Nellis spent much of his career at Kansas State University as a faculty member before moving into administrative positions. He was president of the University of Idaho from 2009 to 2013 before joining Texas Tech as president. He resigned from that position in January 2016, citing tension with the university’s governance structure.