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Union Institute leadership remains in place despite overwhelming opposition from staff

Union Institute & University headquarters in Walnut Hills
Zack Carreon
Union Institute & University headquarters in Walnut Hills

Students and staff at Union Institute & University are left with more questions than answers after President Karen Schuster Webb refused to step down following the university faculty council's overwhelming vote calling for her resignation late last month.

Union Institute has not paid the majority of its faculty in well over a month, and some students are still waiting to receive their federal loan refunds after the school failed to deposit the money in mid-July.

According to information from faculty members shared with WVXU, the result of the faculty vote was sent to Union Institute's Board of Trustees, but the board didn't have enough remaining members to hold a vote on the matter. Still, most of the board's remaining members expressed their support for Webb despite the circumstances.

The board's chair, Edgar Smith Jr., who was also asked to resign, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Now some at the school are left with little hope for the university's future as more discouraging news rolls in.

According to multiple accounts from staff members, Union Institute was served an eviction notice for their headquarters in Walnut Hills last week. Staff members say Webb then held a brief meeting to reassure them they would not be removed from the building. But when staff showed up to work on Monday, the doors were locked and employees were not able to enter their offices.

Get caught up: Union Institute students are missing their loan refunds. Many employees still aren't being paid

WVXU got in contact with the building development company, Corporex, which manages the building, but they declined to comment on the situation.

Amid the confusion, Union Institute's Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Tom Frederick held a virtual meeting with a group of Ph.D. students on Aug. 11 to go over details of the current financial crisis and explain some of the decisions made by the leadership team.

In that meeting, students claim Frederick told them the university did not have enough money on hand to pay student loan refunds and noted the loan refund money should have been left alone, but instead was used to pay a small portion of the staff.

Additionally, the school's chief financial officer position remains vacant. Two people were offered the job, but they did not take it.

Frederick went on to say Union Institute was being heavily monitored by the Department of Education and the university is at risk of losing its ability to receive financial aid funds.

Sanctions from the DOE for the mishandling of student loans include suspending a school from receiving federal funds. If a school cannot take corrective action following the suspension, it can be terminated from participating in federal student aid programs and cannot apply to be reinstated for 18 months.

RELATED: Union Institute's future could be in jeopardy

Frederick told the group the deadline for the university to pay students the money they were owed is Sept. 13.

According to students who spoke with WVXU, loan refunds are currently being sent to students based on need. Frederick had been speaking with loan borrowers individually to hear about their situation. Students who expressed a greater need were moved higher up on the list to receive the money Union Institute owed them.

Still, some students say this system is flawed and those who shared their dire circumstances are still waiting on their money, while others that claim their need was not as great recently received their loans.

Students were also told Union's leadership was attempting to negotiate for another loan to help with the current financial situation, but the attention the school was receiving was making it more difficult to get its money in order.

Faculty members claim the university's leadership has not communicated to them when they might receive their paychecks and previous promises of payments have turned out to be untrue.

While issues mount, the President's Office launched a Sustainability and Revitalization Team to participate in the school's decision-making process over the next few months.

RELATED: Union Institute employee files lawsuit over unpaid wages

The team is comprised of various department directors and administrators from across the university. In an email sent to staff and students, Union Institute says the team will meet weekly and send their recommendations to the president, vice president, and board of trustees. It remains unclear how much power the newly formed group will have since it was created by the president, though a student who spoke with WVXU expressed confidence in the group's chair, Jennifer Raymond, dean of the Ph.D. program in interdisciplinary studies.

Raymond and the team's vice chair Bob Cotter, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, did not respond to WVXU's request for an interview.

Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.