YSU Arts, sciences dean retires

Barbara Brothers retired from the art of higher learning to the art of good living.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Faculty members come and go. Administrators get hired, retire and leave town. Students attend, graduate and fly the coop.
But Barbara Brothers has always been there.
Or so it seems.
Since first setting foot on the Youngstown State University campus to teach freshman English composition in 1960, Brothers has risen to become one of the most enduring academics and certainly one of the most influential female faculty members in YSU's 93-year history.
To an end: That career, which for the past eight years was as dean of YSU's arts and sciences college, officially ended Friday, when Brothers packed up the few remaining belongings from her office in DeBartolo Hall and retired to her Fifth Avenue home.
For the next 15 months, Brothers and her husband, Larry Haims, a retired YSU faculty member, will travel the world, from Toronto to London, Alaska to Morocco, Spain to Egypt.
"We have defined the art of good living as being, No. 1: You have to live your life as if you're going to live forever because heaven only knows you better be able to afford to take care of yourself for that long," she said.
"And No 2: live each day as if it's your last."
In a wide-ranging interview in her office last week, Brothers, 63, a Youngstown native known for her plain-talking, no-holds-barred approach, talked about her four decades at YSU, her life in Youngstown and her university's challenging future.
Her background: A 1955 graduate of Austintown Fitch High School, Brothers received a bachelor's degree in English from Youngstown University in 1958 and taught a year at Fitch before coming to work at YSU in 1960.
She was named chairwoman of the English department in 1974 and moved to arts and sciences dean in 1993.
There were plenty of chances to go elsewhere, she said. But with two children, and now four grandchildren, in northeast Ohio, she stayed put.
"You balance things," she said. "There are tradeoffs. I've always had the good fortune to have challenging and exciting opportunities here" at YSU.
Even though her office for the past 41 years has been on Youngstown's North Side, her career has taken her around the world, to Dublin, Venice, Zurich and dozens of other places to present academic papers and serve on leadership committees.
Community problem: "I think one of the problems that the university has had and perhaps continues to have, and it seems also to be a problem in the community, is a kind of parochialism that comes from not really knowing and being involved in the larger community, whether that larger community is of scholars or other professionals," she said.
"That's how you know what's going on elsewhere. That's how you really get vision about what are the opportunities. That's how you find out what you need to be doing, what you can do to change things."
Brothers, who received her doctorate from Kent State University in 1973, said the Mahoning Valley community doesn't appreciate YSU.
For a time, former YSU President Leslie Cochran, who retired a year ago, sparked community interest and partnerships with the university.
"He energized the place," she said. "The problem was that he didn't pay enough attention to what he had to build on. Instead, he came with a ready-made vision. You can't do that. You have to know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Here, that means the faculty.
"We have lacked leadership in the whole community, and we don't have a vision that the university can be something more than just 'Youngstown College.'"
Newest president: She said she had hoped that Cochran's successor, Dr. David Sweet, would move more quickly to make improvements.
"Instead, we got a study," she said in reference to a 1,000-page assessment by State Auditor Jim Petro on how to improve the university.
She said the much-ballyhooed report was shallow. "There isn't much of anything in there that anybody couldn't have told somebody to begin with," she said.
One of the criticisms in the report that Brothers agrees with is the lack of a clearly defined budget process on campus.
"The budget is not tied to the university's goals," she said. "I suppose I am more frustrated by that this year than anything. We cannot afford one more year of drift."
She also questioned recent personnel shake-ups in the YSU registrar's and enrollment management offices.
"And we're supposed to be building enrollment?" she said. "I don't know what's going on over there."
Behind her: But Brothers said that's not for her to worry about anymore. Although she'll miss the faculty and students, she won't miss other things that come with the job.
"My definition of being an administrator is learning things about people you never wanted to learn," she said. "I won't miss that."
And she won't miss having to talk to and deal with people she doesn't want to.
"That's the privilege of retirement," she said. "You interact with the people you want."

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