By Dan Monk
Cincinnati Business Courier
Updated: 7:00 p.m. ET Feb. 26, 2006
University of Cincinnati President Nancy Zimpher has realigned her senior management team with a series of moves to boost the budgetary clout of academic departments and bring more scrutiny to UC's off-campus development projects.
The change means a promotion for Monica Rimai, who came to UC in 2005 and is well-known to UC basketball fans as the woman who negotiated the severance package of former coach Bob Huggins. Rimai's new title, interim senior vice president for finance and operations, makes her the highest-ranking financial executive at UC, one of four senior vice presidents in Zimpher's cabinet. And it puts Rimai at the second tier of the university power structure, reporting directly to Zimpher.
"This is just a remarkable institution," said Rimai. "To have the opportunity to be part of a process to advance the academic mission is remarkably exciting."
Zimpher could not be reached for comment, but she explained the realignment in a Feb. 10 e-mail to UC deans, directors and department heads. She identified Rimai as one of four members of a powerful new budget committee, the President's Budget Advisory Committee, that will analyze new spending requests for their impact on academic programs.
"All significant financial matters, regardless of funding source or budget category, must pass through the PBAC before any action is taken on them," Zimpher wrote. "These steps underscore how critically important the budget process is to our academic mission and will enable us to keep academic priorities at the forefront of our financial decision-making."
The new committee is chaired by James Plummer, UC's executive chief financial officer. In addition to Rimai, the other members of the committee are Robert Ambach and Bill Kelleher, the top two financial officers for UC Provosts Anthony Perzigian and Jane Henney.
Rimai's promotion coincides with the phased retirement of Senior Vice President Dale McGirr, a towering figure at UC who devised the financial plan for the school's 10-year master plan. It transformed the UC campus with research and academic facilities designed by signature architects and massive new centers for athletics and student recreational activities. McGirr is also the mastermind of a $110 million plan to use the UC endowment to finance off-campus developments. That program has stimulated several hundred million dollars in new housing and retail developments in the blocks surrounding UC.
Zimpher's memo indicated McGirr will focus on state funding initiatives and off-campus development in his new role as senior vice president emeritus/special projects.
Plummer's reassignment is a bit of a surprise. UC spokesman Greg Hand said Plummer was recruited five years ago as a potential successor to McGirr. Plummer assumed additional duties in the recent restructuring, signified by the added word "executive" to his title. Although Plummer chairs the newly created PBAC, he reports to Rimai, Zimpher's memo noted.
Rimai's rise could signal a decline in UC's participation in off-campus development projects. As recently as fall, at McGirr's urging, UC increased its debt ceiling on endowment loans to $110 million. That's more than 10 percent of UC's total endowment funds. Rimai said UC will be "cautious with every investment decision we make from here on in." A former federal prosecutor who investigated financial crimes, Rimai also vowed, "There will be more scrutiny and accountability on endowment loans."
She said she sees no threat of losing money from investments UC has made but said future loans will depend on how projects meet the goals of UC's strategic plan, UC/21.
"When somebody has an idea about loaning endowment funds, the question has to be asked, 'Is this consistent with our academic plan? Does this help the institution reach its potential?'" Rimai said.
The post is the third title Rimai has held since she arrived at UC as vice president and general counsel last July. She was recruited from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she worked under Zimpher as chief legal counsel and interim vice chancellor for administrative affairs.
Rimai's title was changed in September after critics questioned whether she violated state rules by acting as UC's attorney before she became licensed to practice in Ohio. Since then, she has served under the title special assistant to the president. Hand said Rimai has yet to secure an Ohio law license and her new post is not related to the controversy. Rimai's $167,000 salary did not change with the promotion.
One of Rimai's critics, local attorney David Groshoff, said Zimpher's appointment of an attorney to the university's top financial post "raises questions about her qualifications. ... Apparently, (Zimpher is) a fan of patronage."
While not an accountant, Rimai said her work as a financial-crimes prosecutor made her "intimately familiar with financial statements." Before she was hired at UC, Rimai was one of four finalists in Portland State University's search for vice president of finance and administration.
Rimai has the endorsement of her predecessor McGirr.
"She has broad experience," he said. "She knows the territory. I think she's got good instincts and is serving very well in this role."