University trustees praise style, initiatives of Sweet
A faculty leader says the pace of Sweet's first year was slow.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Youngstown State University trustees give President David Sweet high marks in his first year on the job.
"Excellent," Trustee Ruth Wilkes said. "Everything the board could have hoped for."
"He's had a yeoman's task, and I think he's faced it well," Trustee Joseph Nohra said.
Wilkes said trustees appreciate Sweet's deliberate style.
"He has taken his time," she said. "He has evaluated the situation, and he has a full understanding of what the board wants. In a very systematic way, he is going after what we have asked him to do."
Enrollment: Increasing enrollment is at the top of the board's directives, and trustees say they believe Sweet is making progress. Although enrollment has dropped in 10 of the past 11 years, Sweet has said he wants the numbers to increase by 5 percent this fall.
"It's a big number," Trustee William Knecht said. "But he's the kind of guy that once he makes a goal, he's going to have a 100 percent effort to meet it."
"I don't think it will be a setback if we don't hit exactly 5 percent," said Bruce Beeghly, former trustee who was board chairman when Sweet was hired.
"If we get part of the way there, compared to the record of the last few years, that would still look pretty good."
Knecht praised Sweet for shaking up personnel in the university's enrollment division, replacing the head of financial aid, undergraduate admissions and registration.
"It was obvious that that area was just coasting along," he said.
Diversity: Beeghly also complimented Sweet for making diversity a top priority on campus, including the recent appointment of YSU's first black provost.
"I think that will pay dividends down the road when it comes to recruiting other administrative and teaching positions," he said.
Trustee Chairwoman Eugenia Atkinson agreed.
"So far, as far as diversity, he's done what he said he would do, and I hope he doesn't stop there," she said.
Beeghly said Sweet's experience in state government also paid dividends in recent negotiations over the state budget, although higher education overall fared poorly.
"The advantage was that there was no learning curve," Beeghly said. "David is familiar with the state structure and players, and he fits in smoothly with them."
His experience: Sweet's connection to state government was one of the reasons trustees cited for his appointment. He spent eight years in the 1970s in state government, first as Ohio's development director then as a member of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. As dean of Cleveland State University's urban affairs program, Sweet worked closely with then-Mayor George Voinovich during Cleveland's renaissance.
Atkinson said the political ties are good, but they should not be overstated.
"Having political connections is not going to recruit students for us," she said. "It's not going to make the board of regents change its rules for us, and I don't know that it's going to get us anything else."
Dr. James Morrison, chairman of YSU's psychology department and head of the university's Academic Senate, said expectations were high for Sweet.
"He was sort of set up at the beginning to make a lot of changes very quickly, and he didn't do that," Morrison said.
"There's been some wonderment on the part of some people as far as what's going on, or is anything going on over there, because there hasn't been a lot of overt new initiatives."
With the appointment of a new provost and chief financial officer, Morrison said, it appears Sweet may be ready to quicken the pace of his administration.
"He's an extremely honest and sincere individual who's trying to do the best he can in this situation, which is fraught with many difficulties," Morrison said.
Wilkes said Sweet's seemingly slow pace is understandable.
"He came in here not knowing a lot of things, and to get that knowledge takes a little bit of time," she said. "We, the board, are certainly being patient, and we are very pleased with what he has done so far."
Beeghly said the issues facing YSU now, such as enrollment, the budget and diversity, take longer and are more difficult to address, so progress may seem slow at times.
"He has some tough problems to grapple with, and there aren't any quick and easy answers," he said. "It's going to take perseverance and a steady hand, and I think he has the qualities that will produce that kind of leadership."