It would be a mistake to look at Dr. Tony Atwater's race first and his credentials second when talking about his appointment as provost of Youngstown State University. Atwater's qualifications make him the ideal choice for the job of chief academic officer and the second highest-ranking administrator on campus.
His being black is a bonus -- not only for Youngstown State, but for the Mahoning Valley. Atwater joins President David Sweet's team at a time when the university is trying to reverse a decade's decline in enrollment, is striving to find a niche in the state's higher education system and is searching for ways to address the myriad problems that confront an open admissions institution.
Dr. Atwater's r & eacute;sum & eacute; shows that he is ready to take on these and other challenges and will be a valuable asset to Dr. Sweet, who is developing a five-year plan that will result in enrollment growth and academic excellence.
Sweet has been at the helm for a year and has made diversity of the student body, the faculty and the administration a top priority. Yet, he was careful to stress the provost's qualifications in announcing the appointment.
"I'm obviously sensitive to the priority of diversity, but it did not play a key role in this appointment because we had to go for the best person," he said. "That's the basis for his selection."
Indeed, during a press conference, Atwater dealt with the issue of his race, saying: "I just see myself as a provost who happens to be African-American."
Historic: But the fact that he is the first black to hold the position of provost in YSU's 93-year history should not be lost on the university population in particular and the Mahoning Valley's population in general. At a time when higher education is under fire from the courts for adopting policies that give preference to minorities, it is heartening to see YSU take positive steps to diversify the campus.
Atwater's comments about the role of a metropolitan university such as Youngstown State should encourage community leaders who believe that its role in the economy of the region is just as important as its academic role. Sweet, as the former head of Cleveland State University's urban studies department and a former director of the Ohio Department of Development, believes that universities and colleges are important to local communities.
Dr. Atwater shares that view. The Mahoning Valley's economic revitalization effort, the new provost said, is "a golden opportunity for a university to come to the rescue, to come up with the kind of leadership role that few universities have ever really been in a position to play."
Academic bridges: That said, we believe one of the most important assignments that Atwater must undertake is to build academic bridges between the university and local school districts, especially the inner city ones, so that high school students think in terms of a college degree and look to YSU as their first choice.
The 49-year-old provost has the opportunity to leave his mark on this institution of higher learning. We wish him well.